Wyoming edges toward banning abortion

Trigger warning: sexual assault

Most people in Wyoming, it seems, would not want to force a teenage girl to give birth if she were raped and impregnated by her uncle and wanted to have an abortion.

The reasons should be obvious. But they are apparently not to members of the Wyoming Legislature, which is poised to remove exceptions for cases of rape and incest from state laws governing abortion and to eliminate the most common means of terminating a pregnancy.

House Bill 92, “Abortion prohibition-supreme court decision,” passed the Wyoming House on Tuesday. It would not immediately change state law, but instead would have Wyoming completely ban abortions within five days if the U.S. Supreme Court was to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established American women’s reproductive rights.

HB-92, notably, does not allow exceptions for rape and incest. Instead of the aforementioned Wyoming girl having access to a safe and legal abortion—which she has today—she would be faced with the choice of giving birth, traveling out of state, or seeking an unsafe and/or illegal abortion.

Senate File 83, “Prohibiting chemical abortion,” on the other hand, would change state law beginning in July. It would prohibit women from using pharmaceutical methods of ending a pregnancy, commonly called “abortion pills.”

Since only a handful of Wyoming clinics currently provide abortions, so-called “chemical abortion” is comparatively common.

SF-83 passed the Senate on Wednesday and is awaiting committee assignment in the House.

Viewed side-by-side, these bills’ progress demonstrates the Wyoming Legislature’s extreme shift over the past five years on the issue of reproductive rights.

Forced birth in cases of rape and incest

Current Wyoming laws governing abortion provide exceptions for women whose pregnancies result from rape or incest.

Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams

Again, HB-92 would not immediately change that. But the broad support for the bill—despite its exclusion of rape and incest exceptions—suggests that there is appetite among Wyoming lawmakers to force birth in all instances of pregnancy, no matter what, other than those that immediately threaten a woman’s life.

On “second reading,” Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) proposed an amendment to insert rape and incest exceptions into the bill. 

Under Yin’s amendment, if HB-92 were to pass, Wyoming would still ban abortion if a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned Roe v. Wade. But the little Wyoming girl carrying her uncle’s fetus would not become a criminal for ending the pregnancy.

Rep. Andi LeBeau (D-Riverton) testified in support of Yin’s amendment. She said forcing women to give birth when their pregnancy resulted from rape or incest was forcing them “to be reminded every living moment of the very intimate, horrifying crime done to them, and to allow the crime to be continuously perpetrated.”

Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), the bill’s sponsor, shrugged off such concerns. 

“The reality is that two wrongs don’t make a right,” Rodriguez-Williams told her colleagues. “Abortion is murder.”

“Do I think it would be an easy nine months? No. But I do know that there are people who would help.”

Rep. Pepper Ottman (R-Riverton) agreed. She explained that it’s not that big of a deal for a rape or incest victim to carry out the pregnancy and then get help to heal from the trauma.

“Do I think it would be an easy nine months? No,” Ottman said. “But I do know that there are people who would help, not only with the pregnancy but also with the results of the violence that was perpetrated upon these girls.”

Ottman did not address Wyoming’s notoriously scant mental health resources or safety net social services. She’s sure women will find help somewhere.

The House voted to defeat Yin’s amendment, 24 – 34, with two lawmakers excused. The chamber advanced the bill to the Senate with a 43 – 16 vote.

Banning “chemical abortion”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the capitol, the Senate approved a bill to ban “chemical abortions” by a 20 – 9 vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tim Salazar (R-Riverton), said it would outlaw five drugs that are today used to terminate a pregnancy.

The bill would not stop women from using “abortion pills.” It would simply make them criminals for doing so.

As opposed to abortions performed at a medical clinic, abortion drugs can be used at home or in other non-clinical settings.

SF-83 would make the sale, use or distribution of such drugs a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, and/or a fine of up to $9,000. The proposed banned chemical abortion drugs include RU-486, mifepristone, misoprostol, mifeprex and mifegyne.

Only two clinics currently provide abortions in Wyoming. Both are located in Teton County. As a result of the difficulties presented from either having to travel to Jackson or out of state, chemical abortion is sometimes a more viable option for Wyoming women.

The bill, of course, would not stop women from ordering “abortion pills” online and using them. It would simply make them criminals for doing so.

A radical shift

Any observer of the Wyoming Legislature has witnessed a dramatic ideological shift over the past five years. Far-right radicals have replaced more moderate Republicans and the already small ranks of Democrats have further shrunk.

Perhaps no other issue more starkly illustrates this shift at a policy level than abortion.

Prior to 2017, nearly 30 years had passed since the Wyoming Legislature made any changes to state abortion laws. Some lawmakers attempted to curtail reproductive rights, but their efforts were voted down or, on occasion, vetoed by a governor.

Each year since then, however, has seen the passage of anti-abortion laws. More and more far-right lawmakers have ascended into office, spooking their more moderate counterparts who remain into voting along with them.

It seems highly unlikely that the people of Wyoming have dramatically changed their feelings about abortion in the past five years, or that for the 30 years prior the Legislature was misrepresenting a silent, radical pro-life majority.

Instead, the issue illustrates a legislative body that is increasingly out of touch with its constituents, who nevertheless continue to choose representatives who don’t really represent them.

A bill moving through the Wyoming Legislature would completely ban abortion in the state—even in cases of rape and incest—in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Another would immediately outlaw “abortion pills,” which can be more readily accessible for Wyoming women unable to travel great distances to end a pregnancy. The progress of these bills demonstrates a radical shift over the past five years in the Legislature’s position on reproductive rights.