Wyoming’s new abortion reporting law will help anti-choice activists harass doctors and women — 2019 Legislative recap
A new law threatens to punish the handful of abortion providers in Wyoming for failing to report detailed information about the procedures they perform and the women who receive them.
The bill’s sponsors told their colleagues it was all about collecting data to make better state policies. It had nothing to do with trying to restrict women’s reproductive rights, they said.
“This isn’t about abortion. It’s about gathering data so we can make good decisions,” Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette), the bill’s sponsor, told members of the House.
But Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne blew the top off that bald-faced lie in an email he sent out to GOP membership prior to Gov. Mark Gordon signing House Bill 103 into law last Friday.
“Protection of life is one of the most fundamental underpinnings of Republican values,” Eathorne wrote. “It will be an honor to witness Wyoming’s head of the Republican Party signing the measure into law, which helps protect the most innocent and helpless among us—the unborn.”
“The sponsors testified that the bill was not about abortion. Of course, the reality is that the law is ONLY about abortion.”
Linda Burt, a lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, said it’s frustrating to watch the legislators behind such bills be so manipulative and dishonest.
“Only about 7 percent of Wyoming [women’s] abortions are done in Wyoming, so clearly no policy would be made with this data,” she said. “The sponsors testified over and over that the bill was not about abortion. Of course, the reality is that the law is ONLY about abortion.”
A “solution” without a problem
Clem and his co-sponsors of HB-103 are all regular and vocal anti-abortion zealots. It’s hard to say whether any lawmakers were fooled by their proclamations that HB-103 was just an innocent little bill to collect better data.
The new law requires the Wyoming Board of Medicine to investigate any complaints that an abortion provider has failed to comply with reporting requirements. The board can impose penalties against physicians found guilty, including fines up to $25,000 and forfeiture of medical licenses.
There are only three abortion providers in Wyoming, all practicing in Teton County.
No national requirement exists for doctors to report data to the Centers of Disease Control, and Wyoming statutes already gave the Board of Medicine investigatory and disciplinary tools. No other medical procedure is treated in this manner, in terms of reporting.
In fact, there have been no complaints in Wyoming alleging non-compliance with abortion reporting requirements. So, Clem and his cronies decided to manufacture a problem and an unnecessary “solution.”
A tool for harassment
If the new law does generate any “better data,” it will simply be better data provided to anti-abortion activists who can use it to harass and intimidate doctors and women.
“This kind of legislation keeps medical professionals from coming to the state and will simply drive women out of the state for reproductive care.”
“This was [passed] simply to spotlight abortion providers in the state with the possibility of their harassment by invasive searches of patient records,” Burt said. “It will just be used to advance an anti-abortion political agenda.
“This kind of legislation keeps medical professionals from coming to the state and will simply drive women out of the state for reproductive care, making it more expensive and difficult.”
Dr. Rene Hinkle, a Cheyenne OB-GYN and a member of the Wyoming Board of Medicine, agreed. She told a Senate committee the new law will make the few abortion providers in the state “a kind of punching bag for people who want to get rid of abortion.”
Hinkle said Clem didn’t even bother to get his medical facts straight. While the new law requires reporting of the gestational age of an aborted fetus, she said, “Until a fetus is over 10 weeks, that’s actually impossible. The vast majority of abortions are now being done medically so there isn’t any tissue collected, so it can’t be done.”
Never let it be said that the Legislature lets facts get in the way of passing laws. HB-103 was approved 38 – 21 in the House, and 20 – 9 in the Senate.
Rep. Tass’ “gift” to women
Three other abortion bills were filed this session and defeated.
HB-140 would have required women seeking abortions to wait 48 hours before having the procedure. The period would start when a physician notified the pregnant patient that she has an opportunity to see the results of an ultrasound and hear the fetus’ heartbeat.
Freshman Rep. Richard Tass (R-Buffalo), who sponsored the bill, called it “a gift” to pregnant women so they could think about what they were doing and reconsider. Tass compared having an abortion to buying a sports coat: he could return a coat to the store if he didn’t like it, but the results of an abortion could forever traumatize a woman.
“It was clear that the motive was not to help women in any way but to shame them into not having an abortion,” recalled Burt. “I think some of the over-the-top testimony hurt the bill. So much was based on religious beliefs and just crazy stories about women feeling guilt and hoping to see their aborted babies in heaven to apologize.”
HB-140 sailed through the House, with a 36 – 22 vote. But Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper), chairman of the Senate Labor and Health Committee, didn’t like the bill. He announced on the final day for committees to consider bills that there was no time left to hear HB-140, so it died.
A bill to give zygotes and clumps of fetal tissue the same rights as humans also died.
Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) sponsored Senate File 128, the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.” While she said abortion was not covered in the bill, the proposal appeared to exist expressly to include the words “unborn child” in state statutes over and over instead of using the legal definition of a “fetus.”
“Fortunately, the bill was poorly written, and the sponsor did not seem to know the current Wyoming statutes provide very clear and good protections for pregnant women.”
Ostensibly the purpose of the bill was to enhance penalties against anyone who injures or kills an unborn child. A person found guilty of the latter could receive life in prison without parole. Someone who struck a car and caused a woman to miscarry could be found guilty of aggravated homicide and imprisoned for up to 20 years.
Burt said fetal personhood bills are used in other states to create a legal foundation for policing pregnancy.
“Fortunately, the bill was poorly written, and the sponsor did not seem to know the current Wyoming statutes provide very clear and good protections for pregnant women,” she said. “It could actually weaken protections as the crimes would be extremely difficult to prove or prosecute.”
The bill somehow came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 3 – 2 “do pass” recommendation. But the Senate killed it by an 11 – 18 vote.
Rep. Roy Edwards (R-Gillette) sponsored another anti-abortion bill, which was never even considered by lawmakers. HB-302 would have criminalized physicians for failing to notify pregnant women seeking abortions that they could have an ultrasound.
The penalty Edwards sought was up to six months in jail and/or a $750 fine.