Note: This story was updated at 5:20 p.m. April 24 to include amended filings from the plaintiffs. —Ed.
The latest filing in the case over Wyoming’s abortion ban reveals plaintiffs’ continued aversion to having a group of intervenors — including two lawmakers, an anti-abortion group and the secretary of state — join the suit.
Women and healthcare providers are among the plaintiffs who are suing several parties over Wyoming’s latest abortion ban, including the state, governor and attorney general.
Potential intervenors are seeking to join the defendants, arguing they have legal interests in the case like preserving their work in the Legislature. The group also wasn’t satisfied the attorney general would adequately defend their interests, they stated.
The judge should deny that request to intervene just like she did in a previous case challenging an earlier law banning abortion, plaintiffs argue.
“The Court should once again deny the Proposed Intervenors’ motion because they have failed to identify any legally protectable interest that could be impaired by this action,” the filing states. “Nor can the Proposed Intervenors show that the Attorney General does not adequately represent their purported interests.”
Ninth District Court Judge Melissa Owens rejected efforts by the same lawmakers and advocacy group to intervene in the last case against the state’s ban, finding that their interests didn’t meet legal muster.
The intervenors appealed that decision to the state supreme court, but later requested it be dismissed because the 2023 abortion ban replaced the 2022 ban then in question.
Now, Secretary of State Chuck Gray has joined the efforts to intervene, though his reasoning isn’t significantly different from what was previously rejected, plaintiffs state.
“Although the Secretary of State was not a party to the prior intervention motion, his asserted interests overlap entirely with those of the other Proposed Intervenors, including his interest in advocating for anti-abortion laws and seeing that his advocacy efforts are fruitful,” the filing states.
Gray’s argument that he has a unique interest in the case cited his role as a records custodian, his position as next in line to the governor, his work to limit abortions in the Legislature and an award presented to him by Right to Life of Wyoming.
RTLW is also requesting to join the suit alongside Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), who sponsored the bill creating the current ban, and Rep. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett), who cosponsored it.
None of the parties have identified a unique, legally protectable interest or that those interests would be “impaired or impeded,” plaintiffs argued. As examples, plaintiffs asserted that RTLW could continue advocacy work, the secretary of state could still perform his duties, crisis pregnancy centers could continue operations and lawmakers could still pass laws to regulate healthcare.
“In fact, the Individual Lawmakers sponsored, and the legislature adopted, the Criminal Abortion Ban and Criminal Medication ban during the 2023 legislative session, despite the preliminary injunction in the Trigger Ban,” the plaintiffs state.
There have also been cases where judges found that disagreeing with a defendant’s methods in a lawsuit — the attorney general’s in this case — isn’t enough to warrant intervention if there is a shared objective, according to the plaintiffs’ filing.
“The court upheld the denial of an intervention, finding that ‘the relevant and settled rule in that disagreement over how to approach the conduct of the litigation is not enough to rebut the presumption of adequacy,’” the filing recounted.
In Washington, a public interest group that sponsored a ballot initiative was allowed to intervene in a case involving that initiative. However, the plaintiffs in the Wyoming case argue there’s a substantial difference from that intervenor and the proposed intervenors at hand.
There are a few ways to intervene in a case, though. One is via “right of intervention,” which means you have a legally defensible interest that may be impeded or impaired. The other is “permissive intervention” where a judge can decide whether to allow a party to intervene that has a question of “fact or law in common with the main action of the court,” but won’t delay or prejudice the adjudications.
The potential intervenors argue they should be granted the former, but if that’s denied, they should be granted the latter.
The intervenors would waste the court’s time, the plaintiffs argue.
They cited the same group’s efforts in March to oppose a temporary restraining order on the state’s abortion ban. That effort failed and the order is now in place, keeping abortion largely legal in Wyoming. However, plaintiffs argue it shows the kind of ways the intervenors might delay adjudications.
The intervenors’ “evidence included a lengthy affidavit from Dr. Ingrid Skop, who works full-time for an anti-abortion advocacy organization,” the plaintiffs wrote.
In a Florida case, a judge wrote that Skop said she “has no experience in performing abortions; admitted that her testimony on the risks of certain abortion complications was inaccurate and overstated, or based on data from decades ago; admitted that her views on abortion safety are out of step with mainstream medical organizations; and provided no credible scientific basis for her disagreement with recognized high-level medical organizations in the United States.”
While plaintiffs argue against intervention, they stated “the Court may consider granting Proposed Intervenors the right to appear in this litigation as amicus curiae.”
If allowed, the potential intervenors could file an amicus brief during the suit, laying out their evidence and reasoning for supporting the state’s abortion ban. They could also simply give their evidence to the defendants to bolster the case, plaintiffs stated.
Still, if Owens doesn’t allow the group to intervene, they could appeal that decision back to the state supreme court, which is where many expect the entire case to ultimately be resolved.
On April 24, plaintiffs filed an amended version of their opposition to the intervenors. That new version includes a transcript from the hearing late last year where lawmakers and RTLW first made their case to intervene in the case over the previous ban.