When the U.S. Supreme Court two weeks ago overturned Roe v. Wade, Wyoming was one of 13 states prepared to capitalize on the moment and enact an abortion ban “trigger bill.” Most abortions in Wyoming will likely be illegal once Gov. Mark Gordon certifies the bill. 

That has yet to happen. The law requires Attorney General Bridget Hill to review the Supreme Court decision within 30 days, meaning the ban will likely go into effect by July 29. (The AG’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comment.)

And with the certification deadline approaching, questions about enforcement and prosecution of the state’s abortion ban abound. From lawmakers to county attorneys, few seem to have concrete information on how it could play out. 

“I think it’s going to be difficult for legal practitioners and physicians,” said Cheyenne attorney Abigail Fournier. “The heart of this new law outlawing abortions is so short and so vague.”

Medical condition exemptions under the ban are unclear, some say, which creates confusion about whether doctors could face prosecution. Others expressed concern that enforcing abortion bans will result in scrutiny of women’s medical records, internet search histories and natural miscarriages. 

Lawmakers, county attorneys, law enforcement and a former Wyoming Supreme Court Justice could offer WyoFile scant clarity on how the state law change would actually be enacted. The trigger bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Rachel Rodriquez-Williams (R-Cody), did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

“Some choices are wrong, like intentionally killing innocent, unborn babies in the womb simply because they’re in the way of something we want,” said Rodriquez-Williams, speaking in favor of her bill and against an amendent providing exemptions for rape and incest during the 2022 legislative session.

“I am sympathetic to women who have chosen to have an abortion. I’ve seen the trauma. I’ve seen how it lingers on the hearts of so many women in our state,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be allowed to choose that. This bill represents tens of thousands of pro-life constituents in the great state of Wyoming and furthermore it has the support of large organizations that represent millions of Americans that oppose the murdering of the unborn”

“Are there going to be neighbors or individuals in a community that try to rat out somebody who appears to be pregnant and then isn’t?” Sharon Breitweiser, executive director of Pro-Choice Wyoming, asked. “I think the actual mechanisms are unclear.”

Exemption questions

“People are still trying to understand the impact of Wyoming’s trigger law on both existing law as well as its application to very complicated clinical issues that are going to arise,” said Nick Healey, an attorney out of Cheyenne. 

While Wyoming’s abortion ban currently includes exceptions for rape and incest as well as serious risk of death or “substantial and irreversible physical impairments,” providers say they are unsure what situations would qualify under the law. 

“There is a lot of scrambling at the moment to figure out how medical providers, how legislatures, how courts are interpreting the scope of that sort of language.”

Emma Roth, National Advocates for Pregnant Women. 

Wyoming’s sole abortion provider previously told WyoFile she’d likely refer patients out of state in many cases, even for medically necessary abortions. “It has a chilling effect on providers who just don’t want to go down that road,” Dr. Giovannina Anthony said. “And I think it would have a chilling effect on me as well.”

The bill lacks definitions for “serious risk of death,” “substantial and irreversible physical impairment” and “major bodily function.” That creates a huge problem, according to attorney Fournier.

“Typically in our statutes we really try to define what things mean, what terms mean,” Fournier said. “And here we don’t have the definition of ‘serious risk of death.’ Is that 10%? 50%? 100%? Who makes the call about whether or not there’s a serious risk of death? When can that assertion be made?” 

Fournier pointed to the example of an ectopic pregnancy — which occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, usually on the fallopian tube. A fetus will not survive in these cases, and if the pregnancy continues it can cause the tube to burst leading to “major internal bleeding,” according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 

“[A woman] might be fine until it ruptures,” Fournier said. “So when are you supposed to make that determination that the mother’s life is at risk?”

Gov. Gordon’s office did not respond to a request for comment regarding the bill’s vague language and the potential impacts on medical care, although on the day Roe v. Wade was overturned he stated, “I signed Wyoming’s prohibition on abortion bill because I believe that the decision to regulate abortions should be left to the states.”

In 2020, Gordon vetoed SF 97 – Born alive infant-means of care, a bill mandating physicians to try and preserve the life of a baby born alive after an abortion, writing in his veto statement: “the bill prevents parents and physicians from making decisions about how to care for a baby with no chance of survival, when such a baby was born by induced labor because of a diagnosis of incompatibility with life. This strips parents of the ability to make medical decisions about their own family, and it strips physicians of the ability to make critical medical judgments.” 

Ambiguous language in other states’ trigger ban laws  have led to suits and injunctions. 

In Louisiana, where a lawsuit is under way, the state’s Supreme Court upheld an injunction preventing the state’s abortion ban from going into effect. The Center for Reproductive Rights is arguing the state’s multiple trigger laws are “unconstitutionally vague.” 

In an affidavit, one Louisiana doctor wrote, “​​My greatest concern about the lack of clarity is how these laws would affect real life situations that physicians and patients face every day.” 

Ambreia Fernandez-Meadows speaks at a pro-abortion rights rally in Cheyenne on June 30, 2022. (Mike Vanata/Wyofile)

Enforcement issues

“This has damaging consequences not only for women who want to seek abortions, but also for women who want to carry their pregnancies to term,” said Emma Roth, attorney at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “Because as the dragnet of pregnancy criminalization increases, more and more women will become subject to surveillance, investigation and prosecution for adverse pregnancy outcomes, even if they deeply desired to have children and lost their pregnancies.”

Some have predicted that prosecutors could use things like browsing histories, text messages, location data, payment data and information from period-tracking apps to build a case against women who obtain illegal abortions. The Washington Post reported abortion-related texts and web searches have already been utlilized to prosecute women in Mississippi and Indiana. 

There will always be lawbreakers, said Rep. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett), one of the Wyoming bill’s 15 co-sponsors. “There’s folks out there that want to try to figure out a way to say that this is just really hard to monitor and yeah, it is. But I look at it from the standpoint of, is that life worth protecting? Is that life valuable?” 

When it comes to enforcing the abortion ban, he said, he has “no interest in trying to figure out how you can get into somebody’s home. I mean, what they do in the privacy of their home and stuff like that.” 

Instead, he said, he sees it as a safeguard for unborn children.

“It was legal to take an innocent life of a child in Wyoming,” said Neiman. “After this law comes into effect, according to statute, it will no longer be legal to be able to do that. I trust our law enforcement to carry out the laws and the statutes of the state of Wyoming and by whatever means they do that, then they will do that. I trust them to do that.”

Once the abortion ban is enacted, law enforcement will likely meet with county attorneys to discuss how it will work, according to Byron Oedekoven, executive director of Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police. 

“Usually the county attorneys, over the course of the last several years, during Police Memorial Week will take time to do training for their local law enforcement on new laws, new processes and new procedures,” Oedekoven said.

County attorneys’ discretion

It seems likely that much of the power to interpret Wyoming’s abortion ban will fall to local prosecutors.

WyoFile called every county attorney’s office in the state seeking comment on how they might approach illegal abortion cases once Wyoming’s ban goes into effect. Out of 23 offices, two responded to requests for comment by the time of publication. 

“I was elected to enforce the law and not make my own,” Washakie County Attorney John Worrall wrote in an email. “Each case and each defendant has its own merits and drawbacks. As such, it would be inappropriate to announce any decision respecting prosecution or lack thereof at this time.”

“Obviously we enforce the law,” said Johnson County Attorney Tucker Ruby. But he declined to comment specifically on how enforcement of Wyoming’s abortion ban might work. “I don’t anticipate it being a huge issue for us in Johnson County.” 

When asked what he might do if a resident of his county took an abortion pill at home, Ruby said he doesn’t think that’s likely to happen. “And if that did happen, the likelihood that law enforcement finds out about it is pretty minimal,” Ruby said. “That’s an extreme scenario. If we found out about it, then yeah, then I would be tasked with figuring out how we prosecute if we do prosecute it.” 

He noted that if the law does create issues, “one of the benefits of my job is I have full prosecutorial discretion.”

Nearly 90 elected prosecutors from across the country signed a joint statement declining “to use our offices’ resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions.” None were from Wyoming.

Unprecedented 

Former Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice William Hill declined to comment. “I have never looked at it,” Hill said. “I don’t know the first thing about it. That is not something that ever came before the court in any fashion while I was on the court.” 

People gather in Cheyenne to protest the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and with it the constitutional right to abortion. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Prosecuting women and doctors for obtaining or providing abortions is new legal ground, but there have been cases regarding related issues. 

“Even though Dobbs is newly overruling Roe and eliminating the constitutional right to abortion, we have seen pregnant people face criminalization for a very long time, including in Wyoming,” said Roth, National Advocates for Pregnant Women attorney. 

She points to a series of cases in Laramie County prosecuting women for using substances during pregnancy.

“Those cases, though they weren’t in the context of abortion, preview and highlight what abortion criminalization is likely to look like,” Roth said. 

In one case Roth worked on, the state of Wyoming pursued child endangerment charges, which penalize giving children illicit drugs, against Leigha Stewart six days after she gave birth at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. 

The state claimed the baby tested positive for amphetamines and opiates and held Stewart responsible because she “passed those drugs to her newborn child via the umbilical cord in the seconds after birth and before the cord was severed.” 

The Legislature has yet to pass a law explicitly criminalizing pregnant women who use substances, and Stewart’s lawyers argued previous court precedents established “If a criminal statute is ambiguous, the ambiguity should be resolved in favor of leniency and the defendent.”

The charges were ultimately dropped because at the time Wyoming law established that a fetus was not considered a child, according to Roth. 

The underlying theme behind the cases in Wyoming and others Roth works on across the country is “that prosecutors are subjecting a pregnant person to criminalization because of a perceived risk of harm to the fetus rather than providing them with access to health care or other support,” she said.

“There is a lot of scrambling at the moment to figure out how medical providers, how legislatures, how courts are interpreting the scope of that sort of language,” said Roth. “This particular language used in the Wyoming statute is not exceptional — it’s similar to the language used in other state bans, but the situation we’re in is completely unprecedented.”

Sofia Jeremias

Sofia Jeremias reports on healthcare, education and the economy in Wyoming. She received her master's degree from the Columbia Journalism School and previously reported on the West for Deseret News.

Join the Conversation

22 Comments

Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published.

  1. “While Wyoming’s abortion ban currently includes exceptions for rape and incest as well as serious risk of death or “substantial and irreversible physical impairments,” providers say they are unsure what situations would qualify under the law.”

    Rape and incest are crimes and would require investigation to substantiate the claim before a pregnancy is allowed to be aborted. Are abortionists just going destroy the fetus before an investigation is completed ending a human life and simply take the word of the woman who wants to destroy her pregnancy? Since money is involved, based on what I have seen over the last 2 years, I bet they would. Seems there is a loophole for those who simply want for whatever reason to end the pregnancy. Regarding risk to the health of the mother, if this is what providers are actually saying they are either lying or incompetent to practice medicine. What providers did this reporter talk to? I would like to know who they are.

    1. Prior to the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, one Wyoming OB/GYN would prescribe abortion pills if less than 10 weeks have passed since her previous period. In a previous WyoFile article that doctor cited the trigger law ambiguity as very problematic. Does the so called rape exception require a conviction in court? Does an ectopic pregnancy have to proceed to internal hemorrhage before it qualifies as adequate risk to the woman’s life? Medical professionals generally agree ectopic pregnancy should be terminated as soon as practical.

  2. I am for no abortions But why waste taxpayers money on something that if resident goes to another state where it legal. It is then between her and God. Right now USA and all countries but Africa have birth rates below the level required to keep mankind going. Or regeneration rate. This infantciede is working. Depopulation that WEF/Globelist want is being accomplished. What mankind will be forced into is a caste system. Doesn’t matter what you want. You won’t have a choice. Movie SOLENT GREEN comes to mind

  3. God’s spirit shapes a human in the womb, but waits until birth to breath life into its nostrils. With first breath, God creates a living soul. Then we’re on our own until our last breath reunites with God. A fetus (not a person) grows in the womb until it’s ready to receive God’s breath. Genesis, Job, and Isaiah all assure us this is true.

  4. Job 33:4 says life exists at first breath. “The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.” Job 34:14 God retrieves both his spirit and his breath when a man dies. (So an abortion removes something not yet endowed by God.)

  5. Wyoming voters only recently passed a constitutional amendment codifying the right of adult citizens to make their own personal health care decisions. Terminating an unwanted first trimester pregnancy is a health care decision. Wyoming’s trigger ban is unconstitutional as well as being a clear case of arbitrarily curtailing the freedom of an entire class of people.

  6. Once again the issue of abortion is between the patient and her health care provider not the DA/prosecutor in that county or state. Question -is this the beginning of a woman no longer having her own voice? Secondly, why would a physician decide to become a obstetrician and worry about being scrutinized by the government. Talk about the government being to big and intrusive in your life. You can’t have it both ways.

  7. Wyoming has joined the ranks of the most politically and socially backwards, regressive and misogynistic states by passing this law.

  8. Wyoming has shown itself serious about DUI arrests and prosecutions, through the use of checkpoints. It has proven itself efficacious using drug-sniffing dogs when stopping highway speeders. If the state is serious about prosecuting pregnant women for seeking abortions, here’s one way to proceed: on the occasion of any highway stop near a state border, require women passengers of child-bearing age to undergo a pregnancy test. If a positive result occurs, retest that woman upon her re-entry to the state. If her test is negative, arrest her on suspicion of leaving the state for the purpose of procuring an abortion. If the state is unwilling to proceed with such measures, I’d call that negligent. “Murder,” after all, is a far more serious crime than DUI or toking a joint.

  9. I’m curious as to why WyoFile and others are not making reference to the “right of health care access” amendment to the Wyoming Constitution, Article 1, Section 38. As I read the amendment, ironically voted into the Constitution in opposition to Obamacare, it clearly prohibits “undue” state interference with a “natural person’s” health care decisions, regardless of the nature of those decisions–to include women’s reproductive decisions. The amendment also protects the right of patients and providers to “direct payment for health care without imposition of penalties or fines for doing so.” That is, I would argue that the amendment without doubt protects from legal action those who materially support womens’ reproductive decisions, to include going out of state to procure abortions or providing financial support for abortions, from Texas style “bounty hunter” laws.

    Perhaps pro choice organizations and their attorneys are working on this constitutional approach, just waiting for Governor Gordon’s expected certification. Perhaps they are lobbying him hard to refuse certification; I don’t know, but certainly hope so. Nevertheless, fighting the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision and its religiously bigoted consequences is something pro choice citizens in Wyoming need to be thinking about. Dobbs wasn’t just about abortion–it’s about imposing religious tyranny over all American citizens.

    One specific thing we need to be thinking about is the determination of religious fundamentalists to achieve legal “fetal personhood.” There is no biological, scientific, historical, or even jurisprudential support for “fetal personhood,” but since when have facts mattered to the religious right? Where political power is at stake, damn the facts, full speed ahead. More rational citizens need to be faster, and we’re already handicapped.

  10. Thank you, Ms. Jeremias and WyoFile, for this excellent and needed reporting and research. Thank you for providing useful and clarifying background and for reaching out to so many Wyoming officials (even if they didn’t respond!) – please continue your work informing us on this crucial topic.

  11. I wrote a book that wasn’t published about a medical malpractice case in Wyoming. What I learned in the process, which involved interviewing more than 100 people, doctors, patients, and attorneys, was how difficult it was for a small state like Wyoming, without a medical school which is an important factor to attract physicians, to bring and keep good doctors. One of the many reasons was that a specialist in any field needs 100,000 people to maintain a practice. And specialists are the modern way to practice medicine. Much of rural Wyoming was considered a “frontier” because of lack of medical care. Good GPs existed ,but quickly had an enormous patient load– like 4000 patients. A Casper doctor told me the only doctor he trusted was one in Laramie.. I heard countless stories of medical fiascos from patients and from doctors, too. (I recently heard another. )I was told ,”If you publish what you’re writing don’t get sick in Laramie .” So I got doctors in Fort Collins. When I had a breast cancer scare ,a nurse at the nursing school told me, “Don’t let the gynecologist in Laramie touch you ” So I went to Denver where I saw the best tumor oncogist in the western region for months, as my case was ambiguous. The situation might have improved with telemedicine etc. but most Wyomingites I know with health insurance go elsewhere for surgeries etc And now you’re talking about prosecuting doctors who are suspected of giving an abortion! Get real.

  12. I would like to ask a question. What would you do if someone came to your house, knocked on your door and then asked to inspect all the females in the house for sexual activity and pregnancy? What if this happened once a month?

    It is pretty clear that any American that understands the Constitution would recognize that no person or neighbor would be considered a good one if they came to your door and asked those questions. The Constitution is really a good neighbor document and if so called citizens are voting for the state to do something one would not do personally then you are a terrible citizen and a tyrant.

    It is also clear that any decent citizen would know that 6 members of the Supreme Court lied when they said it is a State’s Rights issue because abortion was not in the Constitution. Lying is seemingly a hallmark of the people who believe in god.

    Weirdly the people that voted to look up a woman’s dress are also the anti regulation, do not waste taxpayer money party; yet they have created one of the most divisive, money wasting, tax consuming policies since Prohibition was passed.

    ROE was the compromise. The Right to Privacy should have held for 9 months and not just 3, so yes it was a bad decision, but one good citizens could live with; however, the people that listen to voices from the sky instead of reading our Constitution could not.

  13. Abortion was never set up to become a form of birth control. What happens in the USA is the government roles out programs or safety nets for citizens. Then many abuse the programs. The safety net has to be stopped or revaluated. Perhaps the abortion issue will have men and women think and act responsibly before having sex regarding consequences. It is called responsibility for our actions.

    1. Yes women and men got careless after 1973. Now if you going to punish the woman. Then punish the sperm donor equally. Or maybe little more so

    2. As if women choose to get raped? The Wyoming trigger law has an ambiguous and unworkable “exception” for rape or incest with no details. If a Dr accepts a patient’s rape claims and acts quickly by prescribing abortion pills less than 10 weeks after her previous period, and the rapist is later aquitted, would the Dr face prosecution?

      By writing ambiguity into the law, the Wyoming legislature effectively banned ALL abortions while retaining the bragging rights to compassionate exceptions.