Judge Melissa Owens sits behind the bench
Wyoming Ninth District Court Judge Melissa Owens presided over a hearing last year in the suit challenging Wyoming's abortion ban law. (WyoFile/Jackson Hole News&Guide/AP/Bradly J. Boner)

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.

“I am not convinced that so-called ‘findings’ [in the law] are a substitute for an expression of the people.”

Gov. Mark Gordon

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.”

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. I am a survivor of an abortion and a Christian. It was almost 45 years ago and I have little to no regret because a child at that time would not have had a safe and healtjy life due to my lack of maturity

    OUR FOSYER CARE SYSTEMS ARE OVERWELMED And the Government pays the price of the unplanned pregnancy. Our current social and civil environment does not support a single mother. I was one and know how hard it was on both myself and my only daughter whose father was a veteran with an incurable drug and alcohol addiction. We both sufferer the consequence of a badly timed pregnancy in my attempt to save my x husband from his PTSD.

    Saving a fetus may cause damage to a child. Life is a choice decided by the mother within her own mind and body. That decision should not be mandated by a man in government.

  2. The far-right republicans in this state have forgotten the basic definition of being a Republican i.e. supreme power resides in the body of citizens. Or smaller government for these weak minded controlling individuals (abortion is all about larger government).
    These bills were a waste of time, mental masturbation at best. Instead, use Article 20 which requires 2/3 in both houses and a majority vote of all voters. The Governor has no say in the process.
    The extreme far-right wackos need to either grow some cajones, put it on the ballot or go home. Quit wasting everyone’s time and mental energy.
    Ante-up Eathorne boys.

  3. “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” was written in 1841 to demonstrate how often people do mad things. Unfortunately, many groups in the USA seem determined to write another chapter of this classic about every week.

  4. Extremism sometimes leads to a total reversal of moderate intentions. Check out the end of prohibition. The perfect , in the eyes of some anyway, can be the death of the good. I wonder how conservatives keep their daughters from getting unintentionally pregnant. I guess only liberal or woke girls have that problem. Yeah, right.

  5. Where are the paternal responsibility laws that guarantee financial support from zygote to 25 years of age? DNA identification should be able to determine who the fathers are. Their lives are not at stake but their wallets should be.

  6. They’re going to “protect life?” Apparently only the life of the unborn. They don’t give a damn about the women incubating larvae, or the mothers and families of those children once they are born. As a Buddhist I also resent having supposed Christian mores impressed, especially since they are not actually Christian values but the values of an oppressive (white) patriarchy.

  7. If, as the proponents of this law assert, pregnancy is an extension of “God’s” will, then everything associated with conception, gestation, prenatal care, labor, delivery, and post delivery care are parts of a religious act and should be the responsibility of priests, pastors, altar guilds, and church elders. To deny medical science on one hand but use it in support of religious beliefs violates the separation of church and state. There are no scientific facts verifying the existence of a “God,” but scientific facts verify the facts of reproductive health care. No American has the right to tell someone else what to believe. Time to evolve and get over it.

    1. It’s interesting that a ” Reverand” thinks that there must be scientific evidence of God. I believe the Bible asks for “Faith”. The Bible also says killing or murder is a sin. Murder of a child is worse. Third point is that your “Separation of church and state” in this issue is a red herring. There is no requirement in the Bill for anyone to adhere to a particular religion.

          1. And there is other scripture other than the Commanments that cou nterdicts the “Thou shalt now kill”
            THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS…comes to mind.. for these GOP hypocritical false christians. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF….TOO…

      1. The law only protects two religions belief about fetuses, Islam and Christianity. No other religion and any non-religious people think a fetus is a baby. You know that using the Bible is literally a religious belief. You, Dennis, are attempting to bully Reverend Kee. Go away.

      2. We live in a world where evidence matters. The Supreme Being may exist, but the Bible was written by men. Religion was created by men. My God tells me that a fetus is not a baby and that every child born is the responsibility of the community. I’m not seeing budgets set aside that guarantee financial support for unwanted children. I’m not seeing laws that hold the father accountable. I’m seeing a lot of ignorance and hypocrisy. I’m seeing naive people fall for manipulation construed by devious people beyond the state. If your religion is so important, then I think Wyomingites need to start acting like REAL Christians. Christian women don’t wear makeup and adulterers are stoned to death. How about we start there? Maybe what Wyoming needs is more education.

  8. You know that republicans will never let this issue come up for a vote. Just more gaslighting from Gordon as usual.

  9. Restricting a woman’s right to self determination violates the 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th and 14th amendments to the US Constitution.

    1. Of course the aborted baby is deprived of any and all “rights”, including the right to live or breathe.

        1. At what age and size does one “become a baby”? End abortions then? Or does it not matter if one wants to destroy the baby?

        2. And according to Genesis 2:7, it is not even human until the soul enters the body at first breath.

  10. The religious right needs to be put in check. There’s a reason history matters. We are being dragged backwards by ignorant, uneducated cowpokes who have no idea what they’ve brought upon themselves. Smarter people are supposed to protect us all from this kind of nonsense.

    I had faith in Governor Gordon and voted for him twice, but he is a huge disappointment. The United States of America is not a Christian nation. We are a Free nation. Governor Gordon, where’s your backbone?

      1. Nope, not founded on Christian principles. Many founding “fathers” were deists, and we were founded on principles of religious liberty. So keep religion out of a woman’s healthcare!

      2. “Most of the Founding Fathers were Deists, Unitarians or similar faiths that believed that God does not directly influence the world or order its events.”

        We were not founded on Christian principles. Why become what we fought so hard to be free of?

      3. FYI… God is not a man on a cloud. A fetus is not a baby. Life begins at birth. Fairy tales don’t belong in our government.

  11. It is pretty clear the SCOTUS majority is primarily catholic and as a baptist I would not trust them to interpret the bible correctly let alone the Constitution.  Many of these justices were put in by Presidents that lost the popular vote and then the 3 put in by “swamp drainer” Trump were approved by less than the 60 vote filibuster limit.  The filibuster is designed to prevent radical swings in legislation and now we permanently have 3 religious zealots, two of which graduated from the same DC catholic high school.  These 3 lied about maintaining precedent in attaining their positions and then they get offended when the majority of the country doesn’t respect their opinions on the bible or Constitution.

    Then before Roe was struck down the Wyoming legislature passed a Trigger Bill banning abortion in the event that the catholic SCOTUS does what they corrupted our Judiciary to do.  No Interim Topic, no discussion of changing the Wyoming Constitution, they just vote to take away a Right to Privacy based on a book written by sheep herders in the Middle East a few thousand years ago.

    I have read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; it is evident that our Right to Privacy has been ruined by religious zealots that put an interpretation of a myth above the Constitution.  I will never advocate to take away anyone’s right to believe the myths in the Bible but when a so-called citizen votes to put the power of the State behind religious fallacies then you are proving you know nothing about our Founding Documents.

    The State has no business in whether I have a child or not, but once the new citizen comes out into the public then the State should ensure that it is educated in a Public School and vaccinated against killing me or themselves.

  12. “ “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.”

    Senator Biteman: says who? You do not care about “life.” This Dark Ages “law” ie “decree” is misogynistic and fundamentally cruel. Cut the nonsense. You want to control women and you do not care what happens to them. You want to force women to give birth? Then pay for all expenses related to each baby you forced into the world from prenatal care to post college. Cough it up, “Sir”!

  13. Unless Republicans plan on actually supporting schools, healthcare, childcare/headstart programs, and everything else that benefits mothers and children after they are born, they need to keep their nose out of the abortion issue. Putting the lives of women at risk so they can virtue signal to their voter base is despicable. I say this as someone who is generally pro life. The fact is, sad things happen. Pregnancy complications, fatal genetic defects, rape, incest ect. No woman needs a politician making decisions for her during an already difficult time.

  14. I sent this to Governor Gordon…
    I saw you at the WNIT game last night. I was wondering if you were seeing the women on the floor, the women in the stands, the women cheerleaders, the young girls that came down for autographs after the game…..
    Did you see them as those as most impacted by the bill you signed? And the bill you just let go in to affect? Did you see them as residents that might leave the state? Did you see them as equals – since Wyoming is the Equality State? Did you see them with ruined lives having to carry a rapist’s child to full term? Did you see them as those that might die due to a pregnancy complication that could not be corrected? Did you see them as those that might unfortunately end their life by trying to take care of an unwanted pregnancy on their own – it happened for years before Roe V Wade.
    Do you and the Legislature really listen to the residents? I can tell you that my Wyoming State Representative has not once every replied to an EMAIL, a phone call, or a letter. So who are you really listening to? Who are they really listening to?

    1. How do you know the girl/woman who aborts the result of rape instead of giving it up for adoption is not going to suffer? Will the impact of taking the life of another human not have an effect regardless
      of the circumstances?

  15. Since the country is deciding that all women must carry all pregnancies…
    How about this? It is time to get the paternal side involved.
    All males must submit a DNA sample at the age of 16 – proven that it is their DNA.
    As soon as the baby is born, then the baby will be tested to determine the identity of the father.
    That father must then provide ½ the support of the child until the age of 18.
    If the mother does not survive then the father must pay 100% child support.
    This support would be financial, medical, housing, education, clothing, etc.
    Failure to provide this support? Then the state or federal governments would need to provide said support and determine the penalty for the father.

    1. That would make too much sense and might infringe on men’s rights. Women have no rights, but don’t even try to make life a hair more inconvenient for men. I’m ashamed to be a Wyoming man.

    2. mandatory vasectomies at reproductive age for all males that are reversible if and only when a woman decides to become pregnant. criminal charges against the male/his family if not compliant along with fines. medical records open to the public.

    3. What you are basically advocating would be a return to traditional families. Unfortunately the “I want to be able to do anything I want to do without any responsibility crowd” has been doing its best to do away with that. Particularly the responsibility. It’s OK now to have unprotected sex and just murder any resultant child. SAD!!