UPDATE — Judge Melissa Owens scheduled an emergency hearing for 1 p.m. March 22 to hear arguments regarding a proposed temporary restraining order that would block implementation and enforcement of Wyoming’s 2023 abortion-ban law — Ed.
A judge will likely hear arguments in days on whether to block Wyoming’s new abortion-ban law that a lawsuit claims imperils women, imposes Christianity on other religions, discriminates based on sex and violates the Wyoming Constitution.
Ninth District Judge Melissa Owens would address whether to prevent enforcement of “Life is a Human Right Act” that Gov. Mark Gordon allowed to become law over the weekend without his signature. The law bans abortions in most cases.
Two women, two doctors and two health-care providers sued the state Friday and requested a hearing for Monday, Teton County Clerk of District Court Anne Comeaux Sutton wrote in an email.
“I can never commit to what the court is going to do,” she wrote. “I expect we may get an order on Monday setting a hearing but it would be unusual to set a hearing for the same day.
“This is just the current status and an example of the possibilities,” she wrote Sunday.
The judge should block the law with a temporary restraining order for many of the reasons she stopped enforcement of a similar 2022 abortion-ban law, the suit said. The women, doctors and health-care providers asked Owens to prohibit the new law from taking effect until this suit is decided.
Gordon didn’t sign the bill into law, he said in a letter to the secretary of state dated Friday, because he believes an abortion ban requires a voter-approved constitutional amendment. The new law will likely delay resolving the central question regarding whether abortions should be legal, Gordon wrote.
The governor suggested it’s likely the court will side with the women and doctors, delaying the legislation and putting it into a legal process that could be lengthy.
“There is little question that with [the bill] becoming law, a delay in answering the constitutional issues … may occur,” Gordon wrote. He suggested lawmakers overstepped.
“I am not convinced that so-called ‘findings’ [in the law] are a substitute for an expression of the people when it comes to constitutional matters,” he wrote. “If the Legislature wants to expressly address how the Wyoming Constitution treats abortion and defines healthcare, then those issues should be … voted on directly by the people.”
The suit also claims that the Legislature overstepped, saying people, not lawmakers, amend the constitution.
Christian values imposed
The Wyoming Constitution allows persons to make their own healthcare decisions, the suit asserts, among numerous other points. The law, which the plaintiffs call the “Wyoming criminal abortion ban,” will imperil women because of provisions about when medical care can be administered, according to the suit.
“Delaying treatment … until a woman is at imminent risk of serious injury or death increases maternal morbidity and mortality, yet that is exactly what the Wyoming Criminal Abortion Ban requires,” the temporary restraining order request states.
The law also discriminates against religious liberty, the suit states.
“The religious motivation of the Wyoming Criminal Abortion Ban is evident from the very first provision, which explicitly adopts the religious viewpoint that life begins at conception,” court filings state. Plaintiff Kathleen Dow is a Jew and her religion “requires her to consider abortions,” the suit states.
Dow “will seriously consider moving to another state … where Christian values will not be imposed upon her by law,” the suit states. Other religions also do not agree that life begins at conception, according to the complaint.
Judge Owens determined in blocking implementation of the 2022 abortion ban law that it discriminates on the basis of sex. She should make the same finding with the new law, the suit says.
Owens wrote that the 2022 law, which the new measure replaces, “only restricts a health care procedure needed or elected by women … and discriminates against women on the basis of their sex,” which is “explicitly prohibited under the Wyoming Constitution,” the filings state.
Danielle Johnson, Dow, Drs. Giovannina Anthony and Rene Hinkle, Chelsea’s Fund and Circle of Hope Healthcare Services filed the suit. It names the state and various officials as defendants and asks that the judge declare the measure unlawful, invalid and unenforceable. It asks for legal fees, among other things.
Wyoming had to pay some $600,000 in legal fees after it passed a trespass law that federal courts found to be unconstitutional. That’s not concerning to one co-sponsor of the new abortion-ban law.
“I don’t think it matters how much it costs,” Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester) said. “Since Roe v. Wade has gone down, we need to just make a statement, as this state, that we’re going to protect life.”