Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Abortion is nothing like buying clothes.
Maybe someone should tell that to Rep. Richard Tass (R-Sheridan), the sponsor of a bill requiring a 48-hour waiting period in Wyoming before having an abortion.
Tass told the House Judiciary Committee last week that recently he was buying a sports jacket and was worried about how it would “fit and feel.” The freshman legislator said he was assured by the clerk that if he didn’t like the jacket he could bring it back after a few days.
“Buyer’s remorse,” Tass said. “There’s no such thing with abortion. It’s final. There’s no returning it, there’s no taking it back. … This bill only asks that a woman be given the gift of just two days to consider this final act.”
I doubt he spent anywhere near the amount of time thinking about his purchase than a woman who contemplates an abortion. Nor did he have to drive across Wyoming to Jackson to see the only two medical providers who perform abortions in the state, pay for transportation and lodging and perhaps child care.
The waiting period would begin immediately after the doctor informs the woman “of the opportunity to view an active ultrasound of the unborn child and hear the heartbeat of the unborn child if the heartbeat is audible,” as prescribed by another anti-abortion law adopted in the 2017 general session.
Yet the committee voted 6-3 in favor of House Bill 140 – Abortion-48 hour waiting period. This despite several women at the hearing identifying for the committee the bill’s one and only intention: bully women who are facing one of the most difficult decisions of their lives into doing what the religious right wants them to do.
Perhaps worse than his demeaning comparison of clothes shopping to health care, Rep. Tass assumes a patriarchal right to bless women with the “gift” of his wisdom.
Geri Maria Johnson of Cheyenne was outraged by what she heard and let the committee know it.
“I am angry and insulted by this whole [legislative] procedure,” she said after listening for more than 40 minutes.
“We do not want the government’s interference in any way… I am capable of making my life decisions myself,” she declared.
Dr. Larry Meuli, a former state health officer and one of several men who testified against the bill, succinctly summed up what the waiting period supporters believe: “We will get our beliefs in statute, and if you don’t believe what we do, we can persecute you, we can prosecute you, because what you believe is no longer lawful.”
No medical procedure performed on men requires a two-day wait after signing an “informed consent” form.
Rep. Charles Pelkey (D-Laramie), who voted against the bill, asked Tass if there was any medical justification for the measure.
“There’s so many women who have gone through this who years later are still traumatized by this procedure,” Tass replied.
But Meuli said studies have shown there is no difference between the serious psychological problems of women who have had abortions and those who have chosen to have a child. Both have postpartum depression, he said, but the instances are slightly greater in the latter instance.
Former state social worker Kathleen Peterson of Cheyenne said Tass’ bill hurts women without the financial resources to spend two days waiting for an abortion in Jackson.
“I feel like there’s this thought that women find themselves in this situation and they just suddenly wake up and say, “Oh, I think today I’ll have an abortion,’” Peterson said.
Terminating a pregnancy isn’t the only decision that may haunt women, she noted. Choosing adoption does, too, and if a woman is pressured into having a child she does not want, it can result in the child’s mistreatment.
“All these decisions weigh heavy,” Peterson said. “They came to these decisions way before 48 hours.”
House Bill 140 supporters apparently haven’t considered — or simply don’t care about — the harm a lengthy waiting period would cause women. Those who don’t have sick leave would have to take time off from work. Seems simple, but not if you don’t have much money. And what about victims of domestic violence who have to make up excuses to their abuser for taking a long trip out of town?
In 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a burden on access to abortion — such as the high costs, lengthy delays and extra steps required of the Texas law in question — must be justified by a “proportional benefit.” I think the courts will be hard-pressed to find such a benefit exists in HB140.
If the bill becomes law, it will likely result in a lawsuit against the state. It should not be difficult for an attorney in Wyoming to prove that the long distances women must travel to have an abortion here and the related costs are an undue burden.
Lawmakers who want to restrict abortions in Wyoming have another vehicle this session, House Bill 103 – Reporting of abortions. Sponsored by Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette), the measure would make criminals out of physicians if they fail to meet state reporting requirements for any abortions.
A physician would be subject to a $1,000 fine for being a month late, and an additional $1,000 for every additional month that a report is not made. Nevermind that the requested information is all readily available from a variety of resources, including the Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Intentional falsification” of abortion records would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison, a fine of $1,000, or both.
Linda Burt, a lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, says both bills are anti-women: “They’re about denying women their reproductive rights and punishing physicians.”
Current state law requires that physicians report the age of women who have surgical abortions performed. Clem’s bill would add race, ethnicity and the marital status of the pregnant women.
Why stop there? Doesn’t Rep. Clem also need to know what religion they belong to and their political party affiliation?
On second thought, please forget I posed that question. I don’t want to give lawmakers any more ideas about how they can infringe on a woman’s privacy and personal medical decisions than these bills already do.
But wait, there’s more!
Another bill with the potential to limit reproductive rights, Senate File 128 – Unborn Victims of Violence, sponsored by Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne), would not cover abortion. But it is an extreme “personhood” measure that creates several new felonies for the intentional or accidental injury or homicide of an “unborn child.”
By inserting the term “unborn child” into state statute in place of “fetus” the bill seems to exist primarily to establish the religious concept of life at conception in Wyoming law. It defines conception as “the fecundation of the ovum by the spermatozoa.”
A pregnant woman’s conception may not even be known to her or determined by a physician before an intentional or accidental death. Therefore the pregnancy could be found during an autopsy and used by prosecutors solely to enhance charges against a suspect.
Doctors and other medical care providers and the mother are exempted from the provisions of the bill.
Senate File 128 is unnecessary. There are already plenty of penalties on the books for injuring or killing a pregnant woman. The new felonies created if the bill becomes law include first-degree murder of an unborn child. The penalty would be life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Manslaughter of an unborn child – which would not necessitate the death of the pregnant woman – would carry a sentence of up to 20 years.
Senate File 128 will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday upon the chamber’s noon recess.
If it becomes law, SF128’s definition of human life starting at conception could be the tip of the legal spear used as the catalyst for a new wave of Wyoming anti-abortion legislation and ultimately setting the stage for a Supreme Court challenge of Roe v. Wade. That’s the real reason behind the bill: granting constitutional rights to all fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos and fetuses.
It’s an extreme agenda that’s better fit for a third-world theocracy than the Wyoming Legislature.