A district court judge issued a temporary order Wednesday blocking implementation of a new abortion-ban law, finding that a coalition of women and healthcare providers were likely to prevail in their challenge and that they risked irreparable harm if the law remained in place.

Ninth District Judge Melissa Owens ruled from the bench shortly after 4 p.m. and said the order would be effective immediately. She made her ruling after about three hours of arguments witnessed by a standing-room-only crowd of about 50 women and a handful of men.

“Wyoming citizens voted into law that they have a fundamental right to make their own healthcare decision,” Owens said, citing a 2012 constitutional amendment.

“The Legislature declaring that abortion is not healthcare takes away from the duty of this court,” to decide constitutional questions, she said. “That violates the separation of powers.”

Implementation and enforcement of House Bill 152 – Life is a Human Right Act, which went into effect Sunday, hung in the balance. It banned abortions in most cases and called for the prosecution of doctors who violated it.

The judge will set a schedule for the parties to argue whether she should impose a more permanent injunction and when the merits of the issue will be tried.

“Men and women are not similarly situated. That’s just the way it is.”

Wyoming state attorney Jay Jerde

Two women, two doctors and two abortion-rights nonprofits sued the state and various officials claiming the new law violated the Wyoming Constitution and discriminated against women. The abortion-ban law breached the separation of church and state by imposing a Christian ethic on women of other religions and is too vague, they argued.

The state’s lawyer told Owens the Legislature was within its powers to craft the abortion ban and that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the temporary ban was necessary. The plaintiffs had to show they would likely win the case and were also at risk of harm, Wyoming Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde said.

“They have shown neither,” he said. His arguments did not carry the day.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Marci Bramlet highlighted the discriminatory aspect of the abortion-ban law saying that under it “only [men] can receive complete competent health care.” The law also imposes a “distinctly Christian and Catholic view … that life begins at conception,” she said.

The plaintiffs, Bramlet said, established that the risk of irreparable injury had actually occurred.

State attorney Jerde summed up the starkly opposing views. “I disagree with just about everything she said,” he told the judge after Bramlet spoke.

Among his points were that potential injury was speculative and that religious views opposing abortion were not related to the law itself. That the law aligns with some religious beliefs is “entirely coincidental,” he said.

The law doesn’t discriminate because discrimination has to be among similarly situated segments of the population, Jerde also argued.

“Men and women are not similarly situated,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”

The constitutional provision allowing Wyomingites to make their own healthcare choices is subject to reasonable and necessary restrictions, he said. “The Legislature gets to decide what’s available and what’s not,” he said.

Much more needs to be argued and decided on in the case brought against lawmakers’ second attempt to criminalize abortions. Owens last year blocked a similar law from taking effect and the Legislature replaced it with a 2023 version.

Plaintiffs’ attorney John Robinson in court on March 22, 2023. (Kathryn Ziesig/Jackson Hole News&Guide/Pool)

Owens began probing one aspect of the conflict by quizzing Jerde on whether abortion is healthcare, a proposition the state opposes. Under state law, “an abortion can only be performed by a licensed medical professional,” Owens pointed out.

“When they say it’s the intentional killing of an unborn child, that cannot be considered healthcare,” Jerde said. The new law states that life begins at conception, therefore the mother and fetus, “they both have constitutional rights,” Jerde said.

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. Judge Melissa Owens- “The Legislature declaring that abortion is not healthcare takes away from the duty of this court,” to decide constitutional questions, she said. “That violates the separation of powers.”

    Regardless if you think abortion is health care or not health care; deciding if abortion is healthcare is not a constitutional question as there is nothing in the constitution that specifically defines it. It is a scientific/ medical question that the legislature has a duty to codify into law in matters pertaining to access and autonomy. This judge needs to be removed from the bench if she is that ignorant and confused or worse, allowing her personal bias to enter into the matter. A serious ethical breech of conduct.

  2. I object to the language that says these types of laws “ban” abortion. It is more accurate to say these attempted laws criminalize the choice to terminate a pregnancy. It is a glaring omission when the criminalization of medical procedures is left out of the reporting.

  3. The Constitution did not create the right to abortion, as affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. You assume that it did to try to support your argument.

    1. The reply link is your friend. You should try it sometime.

      You support the killing of a living, breathing, fingernail bearing human that is viable and able to live outside of a womb. That killing is okay to the pro-birthers.

      But the hypocrisy and the clutching of pearls begins when a woman makes a health care decision that suits her and her situation. As soon as science can figure out how a fetus can be viable outside the womb at the moment of conception, I might rethink my beliefs.

      As it stands presently, the religious minority only wants to control the rest of the population with their fairy tales.

  4. I find it very ironic that in March, Women’s History Month that we as women are losing our rights in Wyoming which is listed as the ‘Equality State’. There is nothing ‘equal’ about this. I am sure that the first women voters, governor, and representatives are VERY upset about this.

  5. “Men and women are not similarly situated. That’s just the way it is.”
    Wyoming’s Attorney General

    Well, under the Wyoming Constitution we are Equal. So I suggest you put that in your disgusting pipe and smoke it. I choose for me what is right when it comes to my heth and well-being. Not you, not any other man or woman or child. I decide.

    1. Yes, exactly this. The condescending and patronizing actions by Gov. Gordon and this legislature are nauseating. Smart women who can will leave and are leaving.

  6. The pro abortion people like to change terms. Fine, pro life people can be called pro birth, for a child conceived in the womb. Pro abortion always results in a death of the child and sometimes the mother. Pro death.

    1. This is where you are wrong, abortion does not result in the death of a child, it results in the removal of an embryo or fetus that cannot survive outside of the womb. Stop conflating the terms, the distinction is critical.

  7. Sooooooooooooooo every legislator, who oppose abortion should be FORCED to adopt a homeless/foster child. No exceptions!

  8. Religious fanatics have gone too far. They are following archaic tenets that explain how the world works at a time when we didn’t have science, psychology, mathematics, physics, etc. This is why education is so important. We’re letting people who believe in fairy tales make our laws. “In God We Trust” should not be on our money, we shouldn’t be swearing on Bibles in court and religion shouldn’t be the standard we use to make laws. We are not a Christian nation.

  9. Although pro life activities align with the the teachings of the various faiths, they are not solely based upon them. Civilized societies have always tended to rejoice in their children and sought to protect the most vulnerable in their communities. Even the animal world knows through instinct to seek protection of it’s offspring and doesn’t typically kill it’s own. To see people rejoicing in stoppage of a ban that was passed by legitimately elected representatives of the people of this state is appalling. To see tears of joy as an activist judge triumphantly allows an industry that has killed some 60 million of our fellow Americans to continue its deeds is a sad commentary on the state of our people.

    1. They are not pro-life activists. They are pro-birth activists. With the denial of Medicaid expansion, the unconstitutional failure to fully fund schools, the refusal to responsibly raise minimum wage, the discrimination against union workers, guns for everyone everywhere, and the myriad other “small government” inaction by this legislature is clear that they don’t care about life – only birth. We must change the narrative and correct the dialogue. Call it what it is, not what the likes of Rodriguez-Williams pretend it to be.

      It is time for this state to wake up. You’re the playground for the extreme conservative agenda that failed in other states, and they are hear to set up their monkey bars!

    2. I believe the Bible states in several places that life begins when God breaths life into the newborns lungs. Breath of Life. At death, God withdraws his breath. Somehow I find that comforting.

      1. This is an arrogant assumption that #1, a “God” actually exists and so everyone has to believe it and #2, if there is a “God” then it isn’t a loving, forgiving God who gave humans agency. Oh yeah, I forgot, the story of Genesis says human agency and procreation are the primal sin. Good religion is good psychology and fundamental Christianity is not good religion. The extremist religionists’ theological arrogance is deeply offensive — and wrong.

    3. PS Troy – the constitution is the guiding document— not the laws themselves. The laws must fit the scope of the constitution. This one doesn’t. That is why the should (and must) intervene in this case. Even “duly elected “ make mistakes.

    4. Broad generalizations can be wrong. Here is a little factoid: “Some female prairie dogs cannibalize the young of their relatives, according to National Geographic, which researchers hypothesize is attributed to natural selection since it likely increases the chances of survival for their own offspring.Dec 19, 2018”

  10. YAY YAY YAY!!! A giant albeit temporary VICTORY for THE TEAM over the extreme small-letter Rs, as in r, in our legislature, major KUDOs👏👏👏 !!!

  11. No baby needs to be born unwanted. If you don’t want a baby, you should not have a baby. If there is something terribly wrong that would endanger the life of the mother, or the baby is not developing right, It boils down to – It is a private decision. It is not the business of government.

  12. Separation between Church and State is upheld by the Judge.
    The healthcare of women is also up held by the Judge!
    Republican values of less government in our lives is upheld.
    Thanks Judge Owen.

    1. Murder? A fetus at seven weeks is a loose disc of cells less than 3/4″ in diameter. No smiling baby, no beating heart. And what data do you have to support your allegation there is a profitable industry built up around abortion? You are listening to there many unsubstantiated talking points of a well-funded effort to foist your religious beliefs on all of us.

    2. You are mistaken. This has everything to do with women’s’ sovereignty over her own body and right to worship as she chooses.

    3. “The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus, but actually dislike people who breathe. Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.”

      ― Methodist Pastor David Barnhart

      1. Brilliantly said David.
        And the air was sucked out of my lungs as I sat in the hearing yesterday while the state lawyer claimed our legislature does not believe women and men are to be treated equal. “Men and women are not similarly situated,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.” At least women don’t think with their uterus.

    4. You comment is totally inappropriate. The use of fetal tissue is very similar to stem cell use and has saved many lives. To sit in judgement of it is like saying that organ donation should be outlawed because you want a body in tact for whatever religious purpose you choose to believe in. It is not for religion to rule over all. Believe what you want but do not shove your lies off on me. I stand against religious zealots and always wii.


  13. 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.

  14. “That the law aligns with some religious beliefs is “entirely coincidental,” he said.”

    We hold this lie to be self-evident.

    Jay Jerde did not cover the State in Old Glory, he chose to lie just like the three Supreme Court Justices appointed by Trump when they lied about supporting precedent.

    It seems kind of weird that many worship a perfect man that was without sin and then justify breaking the 9th Commandment because they realize Prayer doesn’t make their dream world come true.

    Roe should have held for 9 months as it is clear that the State has absolutely no business in deciding when I introduce a new US Citizen to the USA. The Bill of Rights guarantees this as the 9th Amendment as well as a plain reading of the rest tells us so. This SCOTUS Majority is a disgrace to our self-evident Constitutional Rights.

    1. Yay Greg, you nailed it once more. Wyoming needs competent, smart, courageous people like you to legislate. Please run for congress.

  15. I can’t believe he said “the legislature gets to decide what’s available”. We voted to be able to make our own healthcare decisions in the amendment.
    How can any male have any say when we wouldn’t ever have to make that healthcare decision for ourselves.