JACKSON—Declaring that an OB-GYN doctor and a 22-week-pregnant woman “have the most compelling arguments,” Ninth District Judge Melissa Owens granted a temporary restraining order Wednesday blocking Wyoming’s abortion ban from taking effect.

Owens ruled from the bench, saying that Dr. Giovannina Anthony and Danielle Johnson, two plaintiffs who sued the State of Wyoming and associated officials to block the abortion ban, had met their burden in seeking the temporary order. Owens indicated that she intends to set further proceedings to argue aspects of a preliminary injunction as soon as Aug. 8. The temporary restraining order will remain in effect until further court proceedings.

Attorneys for Anthony and Johnson told the judge that Wyoming’s abortion ban, which was set to go into effect today, violated the Wyoming Constitution that guarantees individuals the right to make their own health care decisions.

“The [abortion ban] statute isn’t directed at women making a decision about abortion. It just says that abortion can’t be performed in Wyoming.”

Jay Jerde, attorney for the State of Wyoming

Abortion is health care, the plaintiffs and their attorneys asserted. It is so defined by several international health organizations and U.S. medical groups.

As health care, abortion is included under the 2012 Wyoming constitutional amendment guaranteeing choice in that arena, the women’s attorneys said.

This year, a decade after the health care constitutional amendment was enshrined, Wyoming legislators passed the abortion ban law, which includes some exceptions for rape, incest and other circumstances. The “trigger law” was contingent on the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the federal constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Gov. Mark Gordon recently certified the law as required.

Owens explained that Anthony and Johnson had met requirements for issuing a restraining order, including the possibility irreparable harm could occur should the abortion ban not be temporarily blocked.

“Dr. Anthony and plaintiff Johnson, who’s 22 weeks pregnant, have the most compelling arguments as to meeting that burden” required to issue the TRO, Owens said. One of those is the possibility that the abortion ban could cause irreparable injury.

Owens went on.

Wyoming’s abortion-ban law does not mention health care or appropriate medical judgement and “creates an ambiguity for not only Dr. Anthony but for the patient that is a possible irreparable injury to the plaintiff,” Owens said.

“If this law … continues to move forward [Anthony] has to make a decision with regard to a woman’s health or the health of a fetus,” Owens said. “She has no guidance. She has no way to know if she will be prosecuted.

“Does she pick up the phone and call her attorney?” Owens asked. “Does she wait for a prosecutor to charge [her] and wait for a trial?”

Once a doctor decides to delay a medical procedure, “at that point the harm has been done,” Owens said.

“They are left with no guidance,” Owens said, “therefore the TRO is granted.” The order, effective immediately, applies statewide to prosecutors, law officers and others and prevents them from enforcing the ban, Owens said.

Owens concluded the hearing, which began at 10 a.m., within two hours. Approximately 18 people attended the court session in person.

State: not here

The state, through attorney Jay Jerde, argued that Wyoming’s abortion ban law does not prevent a woman from getting an abortion.

“The [abortion ban] statute isn’t directed at women making a decision about abortion,” he said. “It just says that abortion can’t be performed in Wyoming.”

Jerde also said that a 2012 Wyoming constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of residents to make their own health care decisions was approved by voters during debates over Obamacare and was not meant to apply to abortions.

Wyoming Ninth District Court Judge Melissa Owens issues a temporary restraining order July 27, 2022 in Jackson, Wyoming, preventing the state’s law banning most abortions from being implemented. (Bradly J. Boner/ WyoFile/Jackson Hole News&Guide/pool)

The Legislature’s and voters’ enactment of the constitutional amendment was made in the context of the Affordable Care Act, he said. “Do you really think the voters intended to say [the amendment included] the right to abortion?” Jerde asked.

If voters had believed that’s what the amendment said, they would have had a different attitude at the polls, Jerde said.

But Anthony and Johnson’s attorney Marci Bramlet told the judge she must read the plain language of the amendment, not try to interpret voters’ intent.

They also said the religion of one of their clients — Kathleen Dow — would be trammeled if an abortion ban were to take effect. As a practicing Jew who is engaged and plans to have a family, she has a religious obligation that includes having an abortion under some circumstances, according to the suit.

A temporary restraining order would preserve the status quo, the attorneys said, which is one of the purposes of allowing such orders. Others are that irreparable harm could result, that the issue is serious and that the women could win on the merits of an argument for a longer-lasting injunction that could extend until a trial on the central issue could take place.

“It makes sense to maintain the status quo before the state strips a constitutional right,” Bramlet said.

If the state can tell a woman they must have a child, “it can say they cannot have a child,” Bramlet said. “Who are we then?”

Wyoming’s criminal abortion ban law would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

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 agree, woman has the right to choose, Cain also had the right to choose, when he killed Abel. Both are cold blooded murder…

  2. Human life begins at conception. If left alone the natural course of pregnancy in almost every case will be the birth of a unique human being. Abortion is therefore an un-natural ( goes against nature ) act ( intervention) that erases that human being from human history. Every Constitution I have read invokes as it basis the ” Natural Law and the Law of Natures God”. Abortion is an un-natural act ( against the Constitution ) and even requires the use of hard surgical instruments.Hardly a natural process. On a more basic legal tenant and even ignoring the scientific facts it seems to this novice at law that this Circuit Court “Judge” has far exceeded her subject matter and geographic jurisdiction and for this reason should be immediately removed. Exceeding jurisdiction on one count let alone 2 is not an excusable error in a Judge.

  3. It’s funny that for the last 2 years Republicans have been screaming its my body and I won’t wear a mask. Now they say it’s your body and we want to control what you can and can’t do with it.

    1. With all due respect it was the abortion advocates and Federal Gov supporting my body my choice for years but but then implemented or favored forced mandatory jabs and mask mandates. Nice job at flipping it but most people with common sense are not buying your version of the truth.

      1. You have made your pro-birth thoughts known on your multiple posts stating the same thing.

        Comparing abortion to vaccine mandates is a false equivalency that pro-birthers have adopted. Pregnancy isn’t contagious like covid is.

        The decision to receive an abortion is a matter that is left up to the people involved. You, other pro-birthers, and the religious right should have no say or authority in the decision.

        1. “Comparing abortion to vaccine mandates is a false equivalency that pro-birthers have adopted. Pregnancy isn’t contagious like covid is.”

          I do not think you quite grasp the argument and I was not the one who brought up the my body my choice statement and then twisted the facts to fit their narrative. Do you really think as a Physician I do not know the difference between a pregnancy and an infectious disease? My point is actually the cognitive dissonance of those who support abortion runs very deep and has the outward appearance of hypocrisy. As case in point most pro-abortion advocates I know readily accept that life itself, not just human life but all life “began” in J.B.S Haldane’s “primordial soup” but reject the scientific fact that human life begins at the very moment of conception.

          1. You are confounding your religious beliefs with your profession. As a “doctor” your personal religion shouldn’t be conflicting with the care you provide your patients.

            I’m thankful that you are not a physician that I, or my family, will ever have to deal with.

  4. “The [abortion ban] statute isn’t directed at women making a decision about abortion. It just says that abortion can’t be performed in Wyoming.”

    Well, that says it all, a man deciding what medical choices woman can and not make. What’s next, bring back a Wyoming version of Tennessee’s Butler Act, which banned the teaching of evolution? Very sad, and medieval in thinking!
    Steven L. Hanft, M.A. & Family

    1. As a Physician I must object, as it is not a “medical choice” or even “health care” choice but a “lifestyle choice” that is made possible by the paid intervention of people called health care “professionals” with medical training in the use of surgical instruments. The fact that the unborn child is destroyed by “medical people” does not make it a medical choice.

  5. Maybe I am Christian, but maybe I’m not. I might be Jewish but I might not be. Maybe I’m an atheist but maybe not! Regardless, there is more than one religion in this country of ours. There is also freedom of religion. I understand the sentiment, but we are going down a road that only works for the Christian right extremists. Christianity is not the only religion in this country! We can’t continue to allow religious extremism to infiltrate our government and policies. We know where that goes. We’ve seen it. And if you remember correctly, it didn’t work out very good!

  6. One of the most interesting things about the State’s defense of the trigger law is that the defense completely ignored the substantive, material, actual harm done by the law, harm that we’re already seeing in other states (see https://www.vice.com/en/article/3add8b/roe-v-wade-overturned-impact-abortion-rights-reproductive-healthcare). This is a version of the old legal saw, “when the facts are with you, argue the facts, but when the facts are against you, argue the law.”

    In other words, the State has no rational, factual defense for the anti-abortion trigger law. It also demonstrates that the cruelty imposed by such laws doesn’t matter. Indeed, cruelty is the entire point of such laws.

    In any case, the defense of reproductive rights in Wyoming is off to a good start. However, this isn’t a single battle, but a campaign that will have to be fought all the way to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

  7. “Abortion is inherently different from other medical procedures because no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life.”
    Potter Stewart, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
    What part of life do you NOT understand….?

    1. What part of minding your own business inherent in the Constitution don’t you understand? What gives the State or a neighbor the right to demand to look up a dress and force your beliefs on a pregnant woman? Human beings are not getting pregnant just to abort a fetus and to think so or to pass laws like this are a gross violation to the right to privacy.

    2. The key word that negates your argument against this particular medical procedure is ‘potential’ and on the tree of life, ‘potential’ life, in my opinion, just isn’t on the same branch as ‘existing’ life. Anyone arguing pro-life should not limit their opinion to just pro-fetus (pro-potential?).

  8. An abortion is the woman’s decision, not the states. This law is just an attack on women’s rights over their own bodies.

  9. The irony of Republicans’ hatred for the ACA and their haste to prevent its’ implementation has led to unwelcome consequences. I’m sure this won’t be the end of the anti-abortionists efforts to limit women’s health choices. Too bad.

  10. “The [abortion ban] statute isn’t directed at women making a decision about abortion,” he said. “It just says that abortion can’t be performed in Wyoming.” [“JUST”?]

    Jerde also said that a 2012 Wyoming constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of residents to make their own health care decisions was approved by voters during debates over Obamacare and was not meant to apply to abortions.“ [NOT MEANT?]

    This attorney has no argument!

  11. Well, it only took over 2 millennia and 3 educated females to block the male patriarchy from laying claim to a woman’s right to determine her own medical care and bodily autonomy. Let’s hope for further legal protection.This right also protects those who chose to continue the pregnancy. No one belongs inside of this decision, but the woman, her partner, and their consultation with their own belief system. It is personal, private, agonizing and no one eles’s business. The Legislature and Governor Gordon need to keep their hands off of our bodies. Talk about government over-reach!

  12. While I generally support a women’s right to choose these blanket abortion bans have to be ruled unconstitutional. The exclusive bans that do not include serious medical conditions, some that do not develop in 2nd and 3rd trimester, or in the case of rape or incest have to be considered. I’ve often thought of religious stance of some religions that allow abortions under some conditions also, a clear violation of our first amendment

  13. I’m intrigued by the state’s argument that the constitutional amendment applies only in the context of the Affordable Care Act. Really? Would the state argue the same about other constitutional language? I doubt it.

    In 1994, Wyoming voters defeated a proposed ballot measure banning abortion. I think most Wyomingites believe abortion is not a government decision, and legislators should deal with the state’s actual problems instead of imposing their religious views on others who don’t share them.