Cassandra Scott considers herself a veteran of Wyoming’s often dicey travel conditions.

Yet the treacherous roads still took her by surprise on the clear day in February when she and her husband left their Laramie home and drove to Fort Collins to get an abortion for medical reasons. Both lanes of the highway were slicked with ice, and wind-fueled ground blizzards obscured the pavement. She watched a car slide across the grassy median and into her lane. A drive that should have taken an hour stretched into three.

By the time she arrived at the Planned Parenthood, she was an hour late for her appointment — the office had tried to call Scott, but cell service was spotty on the drive. She begged the receptionist not to reschedule: They’d had to ask her mother to babysit, her husband had the day off and they didn’t want to repeat the drive. Plus, it had taken three weeks to schedule the appointment in the first place. “It’s kind of a time-sensitive matter,” Scott said.

She was persuasive, which turned out in her favor. After her ultrasound, Scott discovered she wasn’t six weeks pregnant, as she’d originally believed, but 11 weeks and three days. That meant she would need a surgical, rather than a medication abortion. Scott was grateful her husband was there, because the clinic would not have allowed her to drive home alone.

“There’s a lot of hurdles and obstacles in just that short distance,” Scott said.

Like Scott, most Wyoming women who seek an abortion must travel to Colorado for the procedure. There are only two Wyoming providers — both in Jackson — that perform the procedure. One clinic only provides medication abortions up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, and the other offers both surgical and medication abortions. 

“Wyoming wasn’t on the radar for abortion restrictions for decades.”

Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher Institute

According to the 2020 Induced Termination Pregnancy Report, 91 abortions were performed in Wyoming that year, all of which took place before 11 weeks. Many more state residents had the procedure, according to Dr. Giovannina Anthony, who works at one of the last clinics in the state openly providing abortions, just not inside the state limits.

“Seventy percent of Wyoming women who get an abortion do so in Colorado,” Anthony said. Just the Pill, a website that allows women to order abortion-inducing medications by mail, does serve residents, but for surgical abortions, women mostly travel out of state. 

The already limited access to abortions in Wyoming could soon be completely eliminated.

In a reversal of long-standing policy, the Wyoming Legislature passed what could amount to a total abortion ban, except in cases where medically necessary, or when pregnancy is a result of rape or incest – a carve out that barely passed. House Bill 92 – Abortion prohibition-supreme court decision would ban abortion in the state should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.

Gov. Mark Gordon signed the “trigger-ban” bill into law Tuesday.

Abortion access, like access to many kinds of medical care in Wyoming, has long been limited by availability. But the level of legislative support for anti-abortion legislation necessary to pass HB 92 marks a more recent shift. For years bills banning abortion struggled to gain traction.

“Wyoming wasn’t on the radar for abortion restrictions for decades,” said Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research center. A shift in the Legislature’s makeup, more aggressive anti-abortion lobbying efforts and a more piece-meal approach to restrictions converged to make HB 92 possible, according to both advocates and opponents of the abortion ban.

“I think that the grassroots like myself are beginning to rise up and say, ‘We need to get involved,’” said Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette), one of the bill’s co-sponsor’s. “We’ve been being represented by people that don’t necessarily represent our values. And so that’s why I think you see a change.”

A sign on a house in Lander. Gov. Mark Gordon signed House Bill 92 – Abortion prohibition-supreme court decision into law on Tuesday. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, most abortions will be banned in Wyoming. (Sofia Jeremias/WyoFile)

Access restraints

Wyoming already has some restrictions on the books, including mandatory parental consent for minors and a prohibition of public funds to pay for abortions except in certain scenarios such as rape and incest, or if the procedure is deemed medically necessary, according to NARAL-Pro Choice America.

Surgical abortions aren’t widely available in Wyoming because there isn’t enough demand to cover the costs of purchasing equipment and training nurses, said Anthony. Dr. Brent Blue is the only physician in the state to offer surgical abortions, although he says it’s a rarely requested procedure.

Even without laws that restrict access to abortion, there are not many options for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. Those who travel to Salt Lake City or Boise for abortions must contend with waiting-period laws that can extend time away. Utah requires a 72-hour waiting period between consultation and procedure, while Idaho requires 24 hours.

Wyoming’s brutal winter conditions and frequent road closures pose another hurdle, said Christine Lichtenfels, a board member of Chelsea’s Fund, an organization that provides financial assistance to those seeking an abortion. “That’s a real problem,” Lichtenfels said. “It’s hard enough to get time off of work, get childcare, maybe borrow a car.”

Idaho’s Legislature banned abortions after six weeks, and Utah has a trigger-ban bill in place, that, like Wyoming’s, would ban the procedure if Roe were overturned.

Restrictions across several states means those seeking abortions may have to travel as far away as Oregon or California, where resources could be quickly overwhelmed, Nash at Guttmacher said.

“There will be a period of time where capacity is stretched very thinly, because even in states with availability like Oregon, California, Washington or Colorado, they also aren’t able to meet the need that exists in their state,” she said. “Then you add in more patients, particularly patients who are traveling, that’s a big burden.”

A recent shift

Between the late 1980s and 2017 abortion bans were essentially off of Wyoming’s legislative agenda, Nash said. Bills were introduced during that period and some gained a little support, but none made it to the governor’s desk, according to Nash.

For example, a 2013 no abortion after heartbeat bill died in committee, while in 2021 the human heartbeat protection act made it out of committee but ultimately died.

While Wyoming has long been a Republican stronghold, legislators were not seeking abortion restrictions as aggressively as they have in the last few years, Nash said. “There was very much this approach of ‘there are some things that are private, and you handle them in the way that you believe is best.’”

In the last five or so years, though, the Legislature has passed more restrictions and regulations. For example, although Wyoming required clinics to provide data on the number of abortions performed, in 2019 penalties for non-compliance were added.

“In the 17 years I’ve been here, I think this Legislature has gone from a much more libertarian conservatism to a full on radical, right-wing-agenda type of political milieu,” Anthony said.

Four unidentified women took part in a “Handmaid’s protest” outside of the Wyoming Capitol on March 1, 2022 to express their opposition to bills they believe impose restrictions on women. (Rhianna Gelhart/ Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

Robert Johnston, executive director of the Wyoming Health Council, also noted a change. “It’s gotten much uglier,” Johnston said. “I think that some of the elements that we’re seeing in our Legislature are asking for government oversight of things that a traditional Republican would never have endorsed.”

Sharon Breitweiser, executive director of Pro-Choice Wyoming, wants to dispel the notion that abortion rights were ever completely secure in Wyoming. “We worked our butts off every year from 1990 through 2022,” Breitweiser said, “But it’s obviously gotten worse in the last few years.” Breitweiser also noted anti-abortion activists have put more pressure on legislators, using what she described as “bullying tactics.”

Anti-abortion advocates say they have ramped up efforts in recent years, and that both sides of the issue are racheting up their amplification.

“When I moved here 30 years ago, I just assumed this was a pro-life state until I realized there were abortion laws on the books,” said Marti Halverson, president of the Wyoming chapter of Right to Life. She said in the last few years her organization has been getting more active statewide, and calling out legislators “that voted against life.” For example, Right to Life ranks legislators on its webpage. Lawmakers who have co-sponosered at least one anti-abortion bill are classified “bronze,” while those who have only supported measures receive an “honorable mention.”

“I think both sides are getting louder,” Halverson said.

She also noted the new class of legislators who were elected in 2020. “I think they drove a lot of the pro-life conversation to the surface,” Halverson said.

House Bill 92’s main sponsor, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), has served since 2021. Rep. John Romero-Martinez (R-Cheyenne), one of the bill’s 15 co-sponsors, is also a relative new-comer to the Wyoming Legislature, as is Bear.

Rep. John Romero-Martinez (R-Cheyenne). (Wyoming Legislature)

2021 marked what many say is the biggest groundswell of legislative action yet — lawmakers filed eight abortion bills during the session. “I would say I think it happened last year,” Romero-Martinez said. “I think the groundwork part of the movement has been happening since I was teenager.”

None of the three are confident that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. “I’m hopeful,” Halverson said. Romero-Martinez says he did not support the exception allowing victims of rape and incest to access abortions, and if the Supreme Court does allow Wyoming to ban abortion the Legislature will still have work to do.

Future access

While women like Scott already travel out of state for abortions, a full ban in Wyoming, Utah and Idaho could result in even longer waiting times and other challenges in places that still offer the procedure.

“It’ll once again leave access largely to those that have more resources,” said Lichtenfels with Chelsea’s Fund. “It’ll be important to get the word out that abortion is still legal in this nation and that people should not feel like they are beaten into submission and can’t have any authority over their own life.”

Sofia Jeremias

Sofia Jeremias reports on healthcare, education and the economy in Wyoming. She received her master's degree from the Columbia Journalism School and previously reported on the West for Deseret News.

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  1. In the Equality state we are losing more rights as the days pass. Let the Pro-lifers support all the children born of unfortunate circumstances. My daughters deserve the right to make the decision if they are ready and able to be good parents. Nobody is forcing you Right to Lifers to have an abortion. Are you taking away my religious freedoms and the right to defend myself next?

  2. Roe v Wade initiated the undue influence of the religious right on the Republican party, which is the source of the pro life movement. One poster here was correct in identifying what used to be a libertarian-conservative GOP into what it is today.
    Barry Goldwater had no use for the religious right zealots who had infiltrated his beloved Republican party. In the 1980’s he was supporting LGBTQ rights (even before many Democrats were) and stated that a woman had a right to an abortion.

    The fact is Barry Goldwater couldn’t be nominated as the GOP candidate for president today.

  3. Full-blown fascism is nearly here… Saddest thing is, most in Wyoming will welcome it with open arms. They get their kicks from forcing others to submit to them.

  4. Shame, shame, shame on the legislators who voted to further restrict access to abortion, supposedly because they are “pro-life” and pro “family values.” Nonsense. If they were truly pro-life and pro-family, Wyoming would not be the state with the 7th highest infant mortality rate, with 28% of school kids qualifying for free lunch, 11th highest state for teen births, the 6th highest state for low birth weight infants, or the state with the highest incarceration rate for juveniles. Nor would we have 1 in 6 adults without health insurance–the majority of whom are women. The signers of this bill are neither pro-life nor pro-family.

  5. Well, so much for “The Equality State” for anyone who is not a cisgender white male (aka our predominant legislator!) What right does anyone have to dictate to the rest of us what our beliefs and morals should be? What next–demanding that I sit my derriere on a pew every Sunday morning, in a church whose teachings I reject? My ancestors left England in 1618 to get away from this oppression and in 2022, I agree! And please explain to me why, as a Wyoming Taxpayer, I was forced to pay for this appalling bill in a “budget session”! This is just another attempt by our Republican thugs to divert us from their repeated failures to deal with the real issues facing our State because they have neither critical thinking abilities or leadership skills! VOTE BLUE!

  6. By voting to control reproduction in the state, the legislature controls women’s lives. Pregnancy and childbirth completely change a woman’s life. Women give everything for their children – their physical health, their economic well-being, all of their time every day.

    Giving human rights to a fetus inevitably strips away the rights of the woman on whose body the fetus depends. And what is the result for women and their children? The result is widespread poverty, domestic abuse, sexual assault. Women and children suffer when the system of government denies women authority over their own bodies and treats women as objects rather than human beings.

    Motherhood should not be a hardship and dependent on charity. Children should grow up in an environment that nourishes them and provides opportunity for a solid foundation on which to build a life.

    Support individual reproductive freedom. Give everyone the chance to take joy from the birth of a child. Give children the opportunity to grow up in a happy and healthy environment.

    It is the already living individuals that must take primacy – both parents and children.

  7. Why aren’t those opposed to abortion directing their energy toward doing the many things that will help women not have to face the choice in the first place? Where is the money for contraceptive support and reproductive health care for all, sex education in public schools, making men legally and financially responsible for the lives they help create?

  8. What I continue to be unable to understand is why the innocent deaths attributed to War don’t fall under the category of “Pro Life” or “Right to Life”? Is it easier to justify controlling a self righteous belief by dominating a woman and her right to choose? Why is it our lawmakers and Pro-life protesters aren’t having more of a fit about all the unnecessary deaths caused by the implements of war? Is humanity destined to conveniently ignore the entire meaning of “Pro-Life” until all life is destroyed?

  9. Thanks, Dewey, for clarifying the extremist corporate/authoritarian machinery that underlies these misogynistic political assaults. In recent polls of the public (not of politicians) every single one of the 50 states, including Wyoming, is strongly in favor of a woman’s right to choose what happens with her own body.

  10. How long do you suppose it will be before the state bans the teaching of women’s health issues? Just like the made up CRT. We don’t want to discuss our own history of bad deeds. Think Heart Mountain and the Rock Springs massacre of Chinese coal miners.

  11. I’m not sure who said it first, but it sure rings true…
    “If men could get pregnant abortion would be a sacrament.”

  12. Must be an epidemic of virgin pregnancies. None of these anti-choice laws even mention that a man might be involved, let alone bear any responsibility for their actions.

    1. It’s fitting that those who believe abstinence as “sex education” is sufficient also believe in immaculate conception.

  13. When you follow the recent spate of anti-abortion bills and other extreme social conservative initiative upstream back to their source, you often find yourself at ALEC or the FRC . ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council which is 98% funded by corporations and right wing think tanks ( with very little revenue from membership dues although it claims otherwise ) . ALEC exists to provide boilerplate ‘ fill in the blanks’ draft legislation to state legislators nationwide. Think of it as Templates for Tyranny. ALEC has a lot of clout and/or tacit support among Wyoming legislators. ALEC’s boilerplate covers a lot of diverse policy ground dear to the heart of right wing activists, things like anti-gun control , promoting for profit lprisons, and censoring certin hot button education curriculae . Sound familiar ? FRC is the FamilyResearch Center , an extremist Christian policy engine that does what ALEC does , only more narrowly. Think of all those ” Anti-abortion heartbeat bills ” that are popping up in red states. Most all the strident anti-LGBTQ legislation is gestated by the FRC. Wyoming legislators draw deeply from the well of both these activist far right wing policy wholesalers.

    Trust me on this. Few if any elected Wyoming lawmakers have the intellectual prowess to draft any of these dangerously subversive bills on their own. But try to get any of them to admit to sourcing. I’ve tried. ” Where did you get the language for HB-92 , Rachel ? ” or ” Who provided you the text of HB0097 Chuck Gray ? ” All those sorts of queries go abjectly unanswered.

    Do you really think the deep red conservative Wyoming legislator represents you ? If the topic is abortion , education , guns , more guns, still more guns, or anything with the word ‘ gender’ in it, that legislator is answering to ALEC and FRC and WGO way before they ever get around to addressing your hometown or rural county concerns.

    Report on THAT , please…

  14. Finally…action to stop the baby killing. I noticed more “pro abortion” was featured in the article than “pro life”. When Roe was passed it was on the grounds that abortion would be “rare”…but it has become as accepted as eating toast for breakfast. Sad and shameful. Stop the killing of innocent life! This probably won’t get posted…

  15. It certainly has been a big shift politically, although I think most people in Wyoming are still pro-choice. The “No-On-One” campaign I was involved with in the 90’s resulted in a landslide ballot defeat of the attempt to ban abortions in Wyoming. Even while some may not support abortions, they don’t think they should be able to tell someone else what to do with their bodies. I recall a letter to an editor from someone who said, “leave our guns and bodies alone” in true libertarian speak.

  16. Isn’t It strange that these male Republicans are determined to take away a woman’s decision that should be made by a woman, her doctor and her God? Perhaps we need a law that requires public advertising of every vasectomy and who okayed the procedure!