By putting politics over pragmatism, Wyoming’s ideologically inflexible and frighteningly inexperienced Freedom Caucus managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on one of their signature issues — abortion. 


It turns out that government ineptitude isn’t always a bad thing after all.

Having already passed one constitutionally suspect abortion ban — 2022’s “trigger law” — the Republican-dominated Legislature couldn’t help but grandstand further. In doing so the body showed its true stripes, both in terms of ideology and competence, and set its cause back by a couple of years. 

Let’s start near the beginning. 

The courts have kept the original trigger ban from being enforced while questions about its constitutionality are hashed out. That process wouldn’t be resolved until at least December. So the far-right Wyoming Freedom Caucus, anxious to settle the question, voluntarily — and against the advice of other more savvy anti-abortion House members — took the unsettled law completely off the books in favor of a new, supposedly improved model.

Called the “Life Is a Human Right Act,” the bill was sponsored by Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), who also drafted the trigger law. The LHRA easily won passage, 25-5 in the Senate and 46-16 in the House.

Why are sponsors so confident it will pass constitutional muster? Because lawyers who wrote the bill, including former Democratic state legislator Fred Harrison, who represents Wyoming Right to Life, assured them it would.

Harrison told a Senate committee that the trigger law depended on a 1977 Roe v. Wade definition that “confuses healthcare with abortion.”

Say what? In a moment I’ll get back to that incredible statement and why the vast majority of the medical profession worldwide disagrees. First, let’s discuss why the lawyer’s claim is so important to this legal challenge.

The trigger law challenge was filed by six plaintiffs, including four Wyoming healthcare providers. Their major argument is that the 2022 law violated a constitutional amendment passed a decade ago that guarantees competent Wyoming adults the right to make their own healthcare decisions.

That amendment was never about abortion. Conservative legislative opponents of the Affordable Care Act put it on the ballot to prevent the federal government from increasing the scope of the ACA, also known as “Obamacare.”

In their new bill, Rodriguez-Williams and Harrison tried to magically eliminate the problem by simply declaring abortion is not healthcare, but “the intentional termination of the life of an unborn baby.”

Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens, who granted injunctions keeping the trigger law from going into effect, enjoined a new lawsuit filed by the same plaintiffs over the LHRA, plus a ban on all chemical abortions the Legislature also passed this year. Owens was skeptical about the state’s contention this time, too.

“An abortion can only be performed by a licensed medical professional, so what authority does the Legislature have to declare that abortion is not healthcare?” the judge asked. She added that “the state cannot legislate away a constitutional right.”

Owens won’t need to look far to find evidence that abortion is indeed healthcare, not only in this country but throughout the world.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee says access to abortion is a matter of human rights, and regularly calls on nations to decriminalize abortion. Wyoming’s LHRA does the opposite, with a sentence for medical providers who perform an abortion up to five years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.

Medical providers who “prescribe, dispense, distribute, sell or use any drug to procure or perform an abortion” would be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $9,000 fine under the chemical abortion ban. 

That’s right, the Legislature not only passed two laws that contradict the state’s Constitution, but also contradict each other on the potential penalties. 

Now, anti-abortion advocates have likely delayed a decision for two years or more.

Plaintiffs’ attorney John Robinson told Owens the LHRA and chemical abortion ban violate the Wyoming Constitution because “they attempt to strip women of their rights to equality, healthcare and religion.”

The 57,000-member American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education for the nation’s women’s health physicians. Abortion care is included in its medical training, clinical practice and continuing medical education.

Sound health policy, according to ACOG, “is best based on scientific fact and evidence-based medicine. The best healthcare is provided free of political interference in the patient-physician relationship. Personal decision-making by women and their doctors should not be replaced by political ideology.”

In addition to legislators’ absurd claim that abortion isn’t healthcare, the LHRA gives ban opponents more fodder for legal scrutiny.

The law includes a “findings and purposes” section that declares life begins at conception, which plaintiffs correctly note is distinct to certain Christian denominations and not shared by many other religious denominations, including many Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The Legislature jumped head-first into the already constitutionally muddy waters over religious freedom. The plaintiffs contend the law “coerces all citizens to conform their most personal and intimate actions to this sectarian view,” no matter their own religious beliefs. 

The Freedom Caucus intended to remove the trigger law’s exceptions for rape and incest. Fortunately, that unbelievably inhumane idea was thwarted when Senate President Ogen Driskill (R-Devils Tower) said he wouldn’t allow debate on the bill unless those exceptions remained.

Several anti-abortion House members — all attorneys — implored supporters to not replace the bill being litigated and start over with one that has even more constitutional questions. 

Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo) urged the House to not put the LHRA into effect unless the court rejected its predecessor, making it a “trigger to a trigger” ban. The House passed Crago’s amendment but the Senate removed it.

“We’re never going to sidestep the courts,” Crago warned. “We’re not. It’s not going to happen. All we’re doing is pushing this [decision] down the road. There will be another injunction the second this passes.”

Actually, even sooner. Plaintiffs pre-filed their complaint and asked for an emergency hearing before Gov. Mark Gordon even announced he would let the bill become law without his signature. The original lawsuit is now moot, and Owens issued her temporary restraining order for the new litigation only five days after Gordon’s decision. 

Sponsors chose their rigid ideology over continuing a legal fight already in the court’s pipeline for nine months. The law at least had a district court trial date set this year. Now, anti-abortion advocates have likely delayed a decision for two years or more.

Gordon wants the Legislature, with a two-thirds vote in both chambers, to put the abortion question in the hands of voters with a proposed constitutional amendment. It could be on the ballot for the 2024 general election, where it would need a simple majority to pass. 

A vote would provide finality for both sides to a vital issue that otherwise won’t be decided for a long time. But that would require Wyoming’s “limited government” Legislature to behave like actual conservatives and listen to the will of the people — not likely. 

Few lawmakers listened to Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), a social moderate who often clashes with the Freedom Caucus. But his analysis of the latest abortion ban nailed it.

“This bill is bad policy. It’s poorly written. It’s got the wrong motivation,” Case said. “And it’s the state of Wyoming exercising absolute power. That’s something we can’t do.”

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Rodriguez-Williams swore up and down that her “pro-life” attorneys promised this one would fix all the constitutionality problems. She needs new lawyers.

  2. I no longer live in Wyoming but I do know Wyoming people are educated and deserve the right to vote on any issue.

  3. I changed my voting status to vote for Liz. I am going to stay a registered Republican as I want to try to get the whackos out of the picture. The un-freedom caucus is a disgrace to Wyoming and to the country.

  4. The Freedomless Caucus will never consent to a vote of the Wyoming citizens on a constitutional amendment to decide the abortion question cause after all, they might vote to allow women to make their own decisions on their healthcare. We couldn’t allow them to have that freedom could we.

  5. The Christian religion is being used to impose control over women. These people aren’t Christians in any way, they aren’t patriotic Americans and they don’t believe in the Constitution. The voters of Wyoming are uneducated, which makes it easy to manipulate them. Theocracies have been tried and long ago it was decided it wasn’t a good idea. Read a history book.

    1. *You don’t need to have a college degree to be educated. You just have to read. Republicans don’t want people to be educated, because they will lose.

  6. Being a proponent of saving unborn children does not require one to be a religious person. I do not have to be a member of any faith to know that murder, robbery, assault, rape, or fraud is wrong, and that these things should not be inflicted upon me or anyone else. Our nation is a nation of laws, built roughly on the idea that we should treat others as we would wish to be treated. That is the non-religious way to say it. We also have a national tradition that says that we protect the most vulnerable of our members, especially those who cannot defend themselves. Proponents of abortion-on-demand want to ignore this basis of law, because it is a means to generally release some from personal responsibility, at the expense of others that they conveniently depersonalize. The natural law also informs us, and most all other species, not to seek to kill our own young. I AM a person of faith, and it informs me and many others, in addition to the basis of the laws of our nation and natural law, that abortion is wrong. Like it or not, this nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and it has served pretty well, at least until now, to protect its citizens and to be a positive force in the world. Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and Communist China all intentionally founded themselves on anti-religion, and proceeded to depersonalize certain members of their own, and you don’t have to believe in any “sky god” to know how that turned out.

    1. The “unborn” you want to protect with your delusional righteousness is not viable outside the mothers body. It’s a virus in need of a host.

      This country was NOT founded on christian
      principles. This country was founded to get away from religious rule. The founders didn’t intend for the fragile religious right of today to force us back into a religious government.

    2. Most people assume that you are religious if you believe that a fetus is a baby. So, it’s either your religion or your lack of education that keeps you from understanding the difference between a fetus and a baby.

      The greater concern is what you plan to do with all those unwanted kids. How many are you going to adopt and how much money are you going to donate to take care of them?

    3. (says it’s not about religion)

      (almost immediately makes an inaccurate argument premised on religion)

  7. When you look at the number of carpet that moved here to take over our state and how many have been elected because they are trump supporters and vote accordingly or always vote republican without even knowing who the candidates are, you will understand how this happened. The re-education of the people in this state needs to happen. Nary a one thinks for themself. They have succumbed to the ridiculous.

    1. Marxist dictators favor “re-education “ as a tactic to promote their deeds and discourage and crush their opponents. When one does not have a solid, thoughtful argument, it follows that you insult the intelligence and lack of education of those that don’t agree with you. I have learned a lot from comments that I have read on this website, but I really have not been convinced to change my mind based on the arguments presented in favor of abortion or by any other efforts to crush faith-based points of view. They don’t seem to follow reason, and seem to always lead to some destruction as the outcome. Pro-life people generally ARE people of faith, but I hardly see how that disqualifies them to weigh in or legislate. Modern science that shows the attributes and development of pre born children says as much or more about whether they should be killed or protected as anyone’s faith. They ARE people, and half or more of them will be women, whose rights you all claim to defend, if we allow them to live.

  8. Please bear this in mind, holier-than-thou “Freedom” Caucus, as you try to impose your religious beliefs on all of us: According to most polls, about a third of us are agnostics, atheists or unaffiliated with any religion. We do not share your superstition about a sky god. Keep your noses out of our bedrooms and our doctors’ offices.

  9. Forcing religious beliefs on ANYONE, no matter WHAT your religion…is unconstitutional PERIOD! The Wyoming Freedom Caucus is comprised of nothing but christofacist zealots who seek to punish Wyoming women (not MATTER their age) until they all conform or DIE! It’s LUDICROUS. Wondering how the “Freedom Caucus” (what a name for a group of neo-nazi white supremacists!) would feel if Judaism was forced down their throats? Or Buddhism, hell even Satanic worship (pun intended). They would be screaming like mashed cats! They’re an embarrassment to Wyoming the “Equality State” – they make a mockery of that motto every time they waste our tax dollars, every legislative session!

  10. The recent anti abortion legislation is like putting lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. The 2022 version (the “trigger law”) was a bare bones attempt to prevent the pregnant woman from making her own healthcare decisions. The 2023 version is no different. It is nothing more than a lawyer-like effort by a lawyer to dress up the 2022 version with numerous “findings” in order to make the majority of legislators believe that the 2023 model something other than what it was – an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of pregnant woman in Wyoming. The courts will wipe off the lipstick of this legislative pig and rule it unconstitutional.

  11. Why do anti-abortion people care more about a fetus than about children being shot in schools and elsewhere? What a skewed view of existence!

    1. Yes they allow assault weapon to be easily available so they should allow abortion pills to be sold over the counter what’s the difference