Mark Gordon stands behind a podium looking down while people clap in the background
Gov. Mark Gordon giving his 2023 state of the state address to the 67th Legislature. (Megan Lee Johnson/WyoFile)

Two abortion bills sit on Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk: a near-complete ban and another aimed at banning medication-induced abortions. 

As of Tuesday, Gordon said he’s still mulling over both.

“Obviously, one of the most important [considerations] is constitutionality,” he said in a press conference, adding he wants, “to understand how they interplay with one another, how they interplay with existing law. And then also whether there are any unforeseen consequences that could be problematic.”

“I’m still on pins and needles,” Marti Halverson, a former lawmaker and the current president of Right to Life Wyoming, said about the wait on the governor. “It’s crucial that [the two bills] become law in Wyoming.”

Halverson said she wished lawmakers hadn’t amended the bills, but is still supportive of the measures. Early in the session, she advocated against abortion ban exemptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. “Those children are no less valuable to Wyoming than those conceived otherwise,” Halverson said in January. Both bills now have those exemptions.

People gathered in Cheyenne to protest the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Alternately, the ACLU of Wyoming is urging Gordon to veto the bills, stating that abortion decisions should be left up to individuals, their doctors and their faith. 

“Medical care should be guided by a patient’s health and well-being, not politics,” it stated, adding that bans would disproportionately affect those already struggling economically, those facing intimate partner violence, as well as Indigenous, Black and Latino communities.

There is already one abortion ban in place — a “trigger bill” that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — but abortion remains legal in Wyoming for now. An ongoing lawsuit challenging the ban’s constitutionality and an injunction have prevented it from taking effect.  

The trial date for that case in the 9th District Court in Teton County is scheduled for December, and partially focuses on a line in the state constitution.

“Each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions,” the Wyoming Constitution states. 

Some believe that language could also undermine the two bills on Gordon’s desk. Many Christian faiths and other groups see abortion as murder, though, and don’t see the threat of litigation as a reason to back down.

The House bill 

House Bill 152 – Life is a Human Right Act is a near-total abortion ban, though it was amended significantly throughout the legislative process. 

In its current form, it would ban most abortions, penalizing those who perform them with a felony and possible civil suits. The felony alone would cost abortion providers up to $20,000 and 5 years in prison. For physicians, it would also mean a revoked medical license.

As introduced, the bill didn’t include exemptions for rape or incest, but those were added later with the stipulation that such crimes would have to be reported to police by a woman or guardian — something the United Nations Committee Against Torture says can be an “insurmountable obstacle.”

There are also exemptions to preserve the life of the woman or in cases of a lethal fetal anomaly or molar pregnancy. Lawmakers defined a lethal fetal anomaly as a pregnancy with “a substantial likelihood of death of the child within hours of the child’s birth.” They described a molar pregnancy as the “development of a tumor or cysts” after fertilization that can cause spontaneous abortions or kill the fetus. 

Those last two exemptions were added on the Senate floor during the final days of the session, and some lawmakers were concerned the limited time made it hard to grasp all of the bill’s possible unintended consequences. 

“And so we will pass poorly written legislation that will impact those babies that we care so deeply about.”

Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne)

There are often gray areas in medicine, but legislation has to be black and white, Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper) said. He feared what that would mean for Wyoming women, and he wasn’t alone. 

“This is a poorly written bill,” Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said during floor debate. “It has had problems from the beginning to end.”

Case also wasn’t convinced the bill accomplishes more than the law already on the books, he said, adding “to be honest, I suspect we would pass any bill that attempted to prevent abortion in any way.”

While they ultimately voted in favor of HB 152, senators Ed Cooper (R-Ten Sleep) and Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) both had reservations about its language and potential lack of considerations.

“And so we will pass poorly written legislation that will impact those babies that we care so deeply about. It will, because it creates uncertainty for the families because it is poorly written,” Nethercott said. “You can be for life, and the bill can still be poorly written.”

At one point the legislation was crafted as a trigger bill, only going into effect if the current ban is deemed unconstitutional in court. However, lawmakers stripped that provision out, and it could go into effect soon, depending on what Gordon decides.

Another deleted section had guaranteed the right of the bill’s sponsors or cosponsors to intervene in lawsuits against HB 152 — something a few lawmakers have tried to do with the ban tied up in court. 

While they no longer have an unequivocal right to intervention, lawmakers can still ask to intervene like any other citizen. 

Another deleted section had guaranteed the right of the bill’s sponsors or cosponsors to intervene in lawsuits against HB 152 — something a few lawmakers have tried to do with the ban tied up in court. 

While they no longer have an unequivocal right to intervention, lawmakers can still ask to intervene like any other citizen. 

Sen. John Kolb (R-Rock Springs). (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

With all the changes to the legislation and concerns, a majority of lawmakers in both chambers felt it was still worth passing to signal their continued anti-abortion stance and to legally define “pregnant,” “abortion” and “unborn baby.” 

“I’m on and for this bill, not because it’s perfect — because I can assure you, I will be the first one to say it is not — but this is a journey to get to a place and this is one of the vehicles to get there,” Sen. John Kolb (R-Rock Springs) said on the Senate floor.

Language towards the top of the bill appears to be a counter to constitutional concerns. It states, “abortion as defined in this act is not health care. Instead of being health care, abortion is the intentional termination of the life of an unborn baby.”

Rep. Clark Stith (R-Rock Springs) and others have expressed concerns that the language steps on the judiciary’s toes by interpreting the state constitution — typically the purview of the courts. 

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle), however, told her colleagues that attorneys disagree on whether it’s “poorly written” or how the bill might fare in the courtroom.

The Senate file 

The second bill on the governor’s desk is Senate File 109 – Prohibiting chemical abortions.

Under that measure, anyone who prescribes, dispenses, distributes, sells or uses a drug to cause an abortion can be charged with a misdemeanor with punishments of up to 6 months in prison and $9,000. 

The bill, which the Legislature has seen versions of before, has also gone through major changes over the last months. Namely, lawmakers cut out the names of specific medications they would ban.

Part of the reasoning was that medication names can change. Another part was acknowledgement that naming certain medications could create a chilling effect, making them harder to get for non-abortion procedures. 

Misoprostol, in particular, has a wide range of uses, including to help perform an abortion, prevent stomach ulcers and treat postpartum hemorrhage

Even with medication names taken out of the bill, there were still concerns about its language.

As written, exemptions currently include reported rape, incest, miscarriage and “imminent peril.” However, it specifically states that imminent peril doesn’t include “any psychological or emotional conditions” or the threat of self-harm. 

Mental illnesses are real concerns, Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) said in the House Revenue Committee, which he chairs.

Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) during the 2023 general session. (Megan Lee Johnson/WyoFile)

“It’s real when somebody is in psychological peril,” Harshman said.  “A lot of it is physical causes, right? Imbalances.”  

Bill proponents argued adding mental distress or illness as an exception could provide a loophole for doctors to prescribe abortions. 

“What we want to avoid in the bill is simply a claim that the abortion was needed for the psychological well-being of the woman,” Rep. Art Washut (R-Casper) said. 

Harshman — and 55 others on the House floor — ultimately voted in favor of the bill with mental health exemptions not included. 

The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that Wyoming has the nation’s highest suicide rate. Recent research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry also found restricted abortion access was linked to higher suicide risks for women of reproductive age.

One reason for the bill was to protect the “God-given right” to life, Rep. Jared Olsen (R-Cheyenne) said. Another reason, as stated by Olsen and Rep. Sarah Penn (R-Lander), was that medication abortions are dangerous. 

Olsen stated the danger of drug-induced abortion is “four times higher than a surgical abortion.” Research on Medicaid patient outcomes, however, indicates those undergoing medication abortions are about 1.5 times more likely to visit the ER. Others caution that most of those ER patients don’t have a serious complication. 

Neither surgical nor medication abortions are as dangerous as carrying a pregnancy to term and giving birth in the United States, according to research published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2012. 

There are also concerns that not being able to legally obtain abortion medications will lead women to take abortion-inducing drugs or get operations without medical supervision. 

Bigger picture

Gordon could veto one or both bills, but can also let the bills become law without his signature. He has until March 18 to decide. 

Early this year, nearly half of states had either passed abortion bans or were expected to do so, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Thirteen states had near total bans in place last month while several others have bans caught up in court, including Wyoming. 

There are still concerns that these abortion bans could infringe upon certain religious beliefs in Wyoming. On the Senate floor, Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) said his own church supports women’s right to choose early on in a pregnancy.

“This bill says that acting on the beliefs of our church are criminal,” Scott said. “I submit to you that this bill crosses the line and imposes the will of one set of religions on those of us who are of a different persuasion. And that’s not appropriate in a free society.”

Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) argued that the state is changing to be even more supportive of bans.

“[I’ve] worked in this body when something like this would never be considered, and now we are. And you’re seeing people being put into office who support such concepts,” he said on the Senate floor. 

The investigation into the arson at Wellspring Health Access is ongoing. (Casper Police Department)

The founder and president of Wellspring Health Access — the planned abortion clinic in Casper — is also monitoring the governor’s decisions on the abortion bills.

“We are assessing those and deciding internally how we’re going to address them,” Julie Burkhart said. “At this time, I can’t say exactly what we are going to be doing, but these bills are definitely on our radar.”

Wellspring Health Access is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the current abortion ban, and Burkhart said that case is already weighing a major aspect of the two new bills: an individual’s right to make health care decisions. House Bill 152’s claim that abortion isn’t health care is incorrect, she said.

“Abortion care is absolutely health care,” she said. “Abortion care is part of the spectrum of reproductive health care.”

An arsonist lit fire to Burkhart’s clinic in May before it opened. The investigation into that incident is ongoing and the Casper Police Department recently said the reward for providing information that leads to an arrest has increased from $5,000 to $15,000 thanks to a concerned community member.

“It’s important to recognize that, regardless of the target, or their reasons for starting the fire, the arsonist(s) put members of our community in direct peril,” Lieutenant Jeff Bullard said in a press release. 

Madelyn Beck reports from Laramie on health and public safety. Before working with WyoFile, she was a public radio journalist reporting for NPR stations across the Mountain West, covering regional issues...

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  1. I remember the pre-Roe era. Stopping abortions is never going to happen. History shows this. What it does do is create an environment that leaves women with dangerous choices. If a woman is determined, she will always find someone or something to accomplish what she sees as necessary, no matter how unsafe it is.

    Why is it that our legislators believe women are incapable of making personal choices for themselves and their families? The Government knows better? The irony is deafening! The same legislators who came up with these archaic, patriarchal laws are the same people standing on their soapboxes, preaching about keeping government out of our lives. It is so disappointing and frustrating that legislators who claimed they had reservations about the constitutionality of these bills, still voted for them.

    Let’s hope Governor Gordon will step up and veto both bills.

  2. How the hell does Wyoming pass the red-faced test as the “Equality State” when the law makers are set on taking away the rights of the sex that put this state on the map. Pro-life be dammed, this is about freedom of right to choose, and the law makers know it; why else would they be prepping for it to be challenged in the courts. How many hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are they going to waste litigating this needless cause? Here’s a novel idea lawmakers, focus on the living, young and old, and pass Medicaid expansion. Shame on you lawmakers…shame on you.

  3. I think abortion is a heart-breaking decision for any woman to consider. But it should be up to her and her doctor. Do NOT impose your religious beliefs on someone else. That is totally wrong. It is against the Wyoming Constitution. Keep abortion legal in this state. Abortion IS healthcare. It is NOT the business of a bunch of white guys in government who have no idea of a woman’s circumstances.

  4. Let me get this straight folks: 1) People of faith have no right to run for office and if they get in, they have to abstain from voting; 2) Only threats against abortion mills matter and those against crisis pregnancy centers are okay; 3) Foster children, mentally handicapped and others abandoned would have been better off aborted; 4) Women or men have no responsibility for pregnancy and so the only solution is the execution of the child; and 5) Most importantly to you all is that the fetus (baby, child) is not human. These are the very same ideas that our people fought and defeated in the camps in Germany during World War Two. May God have mercy on us.

    1. Comparing the Nazi extermination tactics of WWII is insulting to the loss of approximately 11 million living, breathing, people, including 6 million Jews, who were contributing to their communities and families. Especially since the Jewish faith supports a woman’s right to choose. Your comparison is offensive.

  5. Concerned that suddenly Wyoming’s legislature succumbed to far right christian facist’s ideologies. Thought we escaped religious extremism when we left England’s rule a couple hundred years ago? What about Judaism & other religions who accept a woman’s right to choose? Those don’t count? The feigned Christian piety of the bill’s sponsor(s) (and supporters of this bill) is preposterous! So because of **THEIR** “morals” all women & girls have to bear the suffering and burden of an unwanted pregnancy? Forgive my basic science but shouldn’t we be regulating men’s reproductive rights? The last I checked 100% of pregnancies are caused by sperm. The egg doesn’t swim to the sperm. Furthermore, why isn’t our Wyoming legislature doing something to protect our ACTUAL LIVING BREATHING children? Instead they are obsessed with fetuses…and passing bills that make sure our employers don’t implant microchips in our brains…do ANY Wyoming citizens realize everyone around the world and within this state are LAUGHING at our lawmakers? It’s buffoonery!

  6. Funny that you never see this kind of outrage from Republicans about all the kids in foster care who most are doomed to an abusive childhood and a lifetime of troubles and insecurities. Where are all the bills to make sure those unwanted kids are cared for throughout their childhood and given help for mental therapy when they reach adulthood knowing they weren’t wanted by their own parents? What about all the kids who have been molested and raped by clergy? Where’s the money to help them? Who’s going to feed these unwanted kids? Who’s going to make sure they are in a safe environment? Who’s going to pay for their clothes, toys and education? Where are all those bills, hypocrites?

  7. If you believe that 95% of women that abort their babies are happy with that decision you are dead wrong. Women and men involved in abortion carry that decision with them for life. If you want 95% happiness, talk to the women who seek help at crisis pregnancy centers that provide loving care free of charge and you won’t find any regrets. Chemical abortion is a dangerous method, especially for young girls who are scared and get them through alternative ways. They take these poisons and then their families won’t even know what is wrong. Mr. Townsend, how do you think that a young girl should handle having to deal with the dead body of her child after this?

    1. I would make sure her best interest was taken into account. Let’s get off the baby A few cells does not make it a baby-yet. And yes 95 percent are happy with their decision. And abortion drugs are not dangerous. Lastly, it’s none of your business.

    2. I personally know many women who have had an abortion at some point in their life, for one reason or another. Not one of them regrets that decision. I have never met a woman who regretted terminating an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy. I don’t doubt that such a regret exists, but I haven’t run into it. Where I have heard all sorts of regrets is in situations where a woman was forced to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term, and then had to giveth child up for adoption.

  8. I knew the governor when he was active in the Sierra Club. The old days. He would have vetoes this bill

  9. I am hoping the Guv will do the right thing and veto this bill.

    The state constitution is pretty clear.

    If not let the court battles begin. I prefer that my taxes don’t go to court battles.
    But, if it is to protect women’s rights then let the battles begin.

  10. It should be totally related to saving life, all lives. Loss sometimes gains and taxpayers shouldn’t be involved in cost of personal affairs of others.

  11. Everyone talks about the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 38, Clause (a), “right to make his or her own health care decisions.” Clause (c) needs some attention: “The legislature may determine reasonable and necessary restrictions on the rights granted under this section . . .” The legislature, in its wisdom, has decided that it is reasonable, and has now become necessary, to restrict the killing of our unborn neighbors.

    1. How many children have you adopted?Why do you believe your feigned piety should be reign supreme over everyone else’s beliefs and bodily autonomy? How does your religion play a part in your political beliefs?These are honest questions.

    2. Unborn neighbors? I don’t buy it. Nor do I buy the characterization of abortion as the killing of babies. As the pictures in the article below show, pregnancy tissue at seven weeks is nothing more than a disc of cells roughly 3/4″ in diameter. There is no heartbeat being stilled. Please stop trying to force your values on others.
      Early Abortion Looks Nothing Like What You’ve Been Told

  12. Are these bans in force from the moment of conception? That’s not clear to me. Barbaric, if that’s the case.

  13. Medical decisions, including abortion, should be the responsibility of women and their medical providers. Outsiders, including politicians, should not interfere in any way.

  14. Without laws to protect basic womens’ rights Wyoming is a disgrace. Protect women’s lives in this state, Gov. Gordon. Women notice these unfounded efforts to give in to Religious Conservatives rather than basic constitutional rights.

  15. This is clearly a biased article favoring abortion and an effort to get the base fired up to weaken the Governor’s will to sign the bills. There is no mention in the article of violence and threats to pro life pregnancy centers, no serious mention of the dangers of chemical abortion. The mention of a “church” that favors abortion is in no way a representation of the overwhelming number of people of faith that are committed to the God-given right to life. Abortion is no solution to suicidal issues either – acceptance, compassion, and love are. The article ignores the suicidal tendencies of women who regret having an abortion as well. If a governing body acts to protect the most vulnerable members of society, the unborn, it should at least get a fair view in the “press”.

    1. 95 percent of women that had an abortion are happy with their choice, and there is no danger by using chemical abortion.

    2. This isn’t about protecting the unborn to your side of the fence. This is about enacting the vocal religious minority opinion onto the majority. It’s about control

      If the religious right was as compassionate as they pretend, they’d focus on kids currently in foster care. But since foster kids are already viable and living, they want nothing to do with them..

      The unborn make for better political props.

  16. You would be excused for thinking that the Wyoming legislature is intent on driving anyone below the age of 40 out of the state. We already export something like 75% of our college graduates to other states. Abortion bans may make legislators feel good but are essentially meaningless when the entire population is over 70.

  17. It is just incomprehensible to me how people with no medical background can weigh in on the subject of whether a woman can have an abortion or not when her life is at stake when it is determined by her obstetrician that an abortion is necessary to save her life. There are many medical reasons for such a requirement that have no justification for penalizing either the doctor or the patient for the performance of this medical emergency. When religious fanaticism overwhelms good science, we all pay the consequences but some more than others.

  18. Is it true that Wyoming is having difficulty recruiting and/or keeping ob/gyn doctors because of the uncertainty created by laws like these?

      1. What about the mother? No rights for her to decide her own fate? If you’re against abortion, don’t have one.

        1. No one “favors” abortion. I am pro life – the woman’s life, from needing a medical procedure for whatever reason, to it just not being the right time to give birth. It is no one’s business what goes on between a woman and her doctor. NO ONE’S!!! Especially, when those who seem to be against the right to abortion, also are against expanding Medicaid, and other social assistance programs. You can’t have it both ways. This isn’t a perfect world. As a counselor, I have NEVER had a woman sorry or somehow negatively impacted for having made the choice to terminate. I HAVE had women traumatized by people’s attitudes when they need to make medical determinations to terminate. One even had to fight her way to terminate one twin that was not going to make it, in order to save the other.

      2. Show concern for kids in foster care. Don’t use the unborn for political purposes and make believe righteousness.

    1. The years I worked in Wyoming no physicians would abort a baby. Sadly guess that’s changed. Because of Wyoming insurance laws physicians had to pay HUGE insurance fees