The front doors at the Teton County Courthouse, framed by trees
The Teton County Courthouse. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Expert witnesses should be allowed in the case over Wyoming’s abortion bans because their statements bolster claims of unconstitutionality, plaintiffs challenging the laws argued in a recent filing. 

The plaintiffs — who include women, doctors, a clinic and an advocacy organization — pointed to findings the 9th District Court in Teton County has already made. 

For example, the state’s opposition to the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses echoes arguments it made against answering discovery questions. Judge Melissa Owens ordered the state to answer more than 20 of the plaintiffs’ questions anyway, excluding only four “requests for admission.” 

“The Court has already rejected this argument once and should do so again,” plaintiffs wrote. 

While the state disagrees, plaintiffs also argue their qualified experts meet all required criteria. That includes providing testimony to help the court understand evidence or determine facts, that the testimony is based on “sufficient facts or data” and that the testimony is a product of “reliable principles and methods.”

“The Court has already rejected this argument once and should do so again.”

Plaintiffs’ filing

The plaintiffs’ experts include a practicing OB-GYN in Texas who conducts research, a professor who analyzes religious views on reproductive issues, a conservative Jewish rabbi and scholar, a prominent former Wyoming prosecutor and four of the plaintiffs.

All proposed experts are involved in the plaintiffs’ request for summary judgment in the case — or in other words, asking the judge to skip a trial and go straight to a decision.

Requests for summary judgment are made when a party argues there are no fact issues in a case, only legal ones. The state has not responded to plaintiffs’ lengthy request as of this story, but is expected to.

At the center of the case are two laws the Wyoming Legislature passed earlier this year. One is a near-total ban on abortion. The other bans medications used to induce abortions. Owens put both on hold earlier this year while the case makes its way through the courts.

Why have experts at all?

Experts demonstrate the real-world impacts of the abortion bans, plaintiffs state, including how those impacts make the bans unconstitutional in practice.

For example, while plaintiffs and the state disagree on what kinds of legal tests should be applied to determine this case — and what each side has to prove — all deal with the state’s interests.

“[A]ll of these tests require at minimum that the challenged statutes actually further a governmental interest,” the plaintiffs’ filing states. 

The plaintiffs allege the laws further no stated governmental interest, including claims that the laws are meant to protect the unborn and pregnant women. 

To back that allegation, plaintiffs utilize testimony like that of Dr. Ghazaleh Kinney Moayedi — the OB-GYN in Texas who has seen the effects of a similar abortion ban there, including women having to wait until they’re close enough to death to qualify for a legal abortion, even if a fetus has little chance of survival.

“All of Plaintiffs’ experts provide opinions on the myriad ways that the Abortion Ban and Medication Ban will unduly infringe on women’s right to make their own health care decisions by preventing women from obtaining medically necessary care,” the filing states. 

The belief that life starts at conception is also tied to theology, plaintiffs state, citing testimony from expert religion scholar Rebecca Peters. Experts discuss how one of the plaintiffs’ own beliefs as a conservative Jewish woman is at odds with the abortion bans, which plaintiffs contend means the bans’ unconstitutionally push a religious belief onto the rest of Wyoming.

The bans are also unconstitutional, plaintiffs wrote, because of their vague language. The ability of health professionals and legal experts to understand that language is key, the filings contend, which is why testimony from those kinds of individuals is necessary in this case. 

“Both the Abortion Ban and the Medication Ban regulate the conduct of physicians, and call on physicians to use their medical judgment to determine whether the exceptions to the bans apply,” the filing states. “However, these exceptions use a host of vague and ambiguous terms.”

The state argues some testimony involves opinions on “ultimate issues of law,” something deemed a no-no in many cases, according to the court in Specht v. Jensen. However, plaintiffs state their experts aren’t interpreting the laws, but how the bans may be used in practice.

The state had also questioned certain experts’ ability to discuss matters that the state said isn’t in their realm of expertise. For example, the state contended former prosecutor Michael Blonigen shouldn’t be able to discuss how the law could harm childhood victims of sexual abuse because he isn’t an expert on such victims.

In response, plaintiffs state Blonigen has strong expertise in that area, noting his more than 200 jury trials and work with the Child Advocacy Center. 

“As a prosecutor with this experience, he is well-versed in the difficulties minors have in reporting sexual crimes and the likelihood that victims of childhood sexual abuse will not be able to access the abortion care that the statute purports to allow,” the filing states. 

Judge Owens is expected to make a decision on the plaintiffs’ experts in the near future. Most abortion remains legal in Wyoming.

Madelyn Beck reports from Laramie on health and public safety. Before working with WyoFile, she was a public radio journalist reporting for NPR stations across the Mountain West, covering regional issues...

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  1. The State of Wyoming and Others i.e., Freedom Caucus etc. present the same tired simplistic religious opinions as argument advocating for the Unborn (see quote from Methodist Pastor Dave Barnhart “The Unborn”). For credibility, the State of Wyoming and Others need to lobby for “The Born” demanding the immediate expansion of all social programs. A partial list includes healthcare for women after giving birth and the child, adoption services, free schooling including money for decent lunches, free college/trade school, prison expansion and reform, housing, programs to move people from low income to middle class, increases to teacher pay etc. Lobby for an immediate Wyoming State income tax rate of 6% dedicated to the Unborn, now Born, with options to expand as necessary. Rapidly expand government to help all the Unborn become The Born. Until then, leave the difficult decisions to those best equipped to make them, Women.

    1. More effective than birth control alone is age appropriate sex education beginning as early as grade school. Understanding how the female and male reproductive systems function, in combination with inexpensive, effective, readily available contraception, will make significant reductions in the number of unplanned pregnancies along with ensuring every planned pregnancy is a wanted pregnancy.

  2. Restricting a woman’s right to secure an abortion if she chooses violates the 1st, 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th and 14th amendments to the US Constitution.

  3. The Republicans passed an amendment to the Wyoming Constitution indicating that medical decisions should be up to the patient and their doctor, not up to the state. Now, the same Republicans are saying “abortion is not a medical procedure” based on a definition of the word “baby” unsupported by any words in any Christian or Jewish Bible or any scientist that isn’t a member propagating those misleading definitions. At the moment the Wyoming Governor and Legislature have become leading examples of the definition of “hypocrite” worldwide.
    I would prefer the world think of Wyoming as the first state that permitted women to be actual citizens (by giving them the vote) instead of as another place that tried to deprive women of their dignity, and take away women’s independence by trying to control their bodies. In the real world, it is some of the followers of Islam that would support these laws. Apparently our legislators think they belong to the Wyoming Taliban.

    1. This statement is at the core of the whole abortion issue and should get much more attention: “The belief that life starts at conception is also tied to theology [and therefore]…the bans unconstitutionally push a religious belief onto [everyone].”

      1. Which isn’t true. The idea that life begins at conception is based on science. Life is defined as:
        responds to stimuli, has a metabolism, growth, and reproduction upon maturity. All of those are present at conception.

        What IS tied to theology is that all life (especially human life) has equal value and all people are equal in the eyes of God. That belief is the basis of abolitionists, the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, and the pro-life movement.

  4. Thank you, Ms. Beck, for your clear and effective reporting on these issues; you have helped clarify legal complexities so that we readers can better understand these cases that will affect our lives — a huge public service!

  5. Why is it that Governor Gordon, WY Attorney General Bridget Hill, and virtually all Republicans in the statehouse choose to ignore basic facts not only on healthcare but on matters of law? Confront them with the fact that their beliefs are strictly religious, they deny it and claim they are protecting “babies” and women.

    Inform them with basic facts on gestation, eg that a human zygote is 1/10 of a mm in diameter (barely visible with the naked eye) and ask if that is a “baby” with a “soul” and constitutional rights, and they deflect by saying “we don’t want to get into a medical argument.

    Challenge them by saying that they would rather a woman die than get an abortion, and they respond with, “That’s not true. There are exceptions for the life of the mother.” In reality, doctors are hesitant to perform abortions under those circumstances for fear of prosecution, imprisonment, fines, and losing their medical licenses.

    Describe for them the brutal reality of the consequences of abortion bans eg forcing 10 year olds to give birth, an extremely lethal thing, and they look at you like you have two heads.

    I wish someone in the GOP would respond to this. They won’t except to repeat their standard talking points.