Sen. Tim Salazar
Sen. Tim Salazar (Megan Lee Johnson/WyoFile)

Legislators in Cheyenne have introduced three abortion bills so far this year. Two would further restrict access to abortion services, while a third would return Wyoming’s abortion policy to the status quo before Roe v. Wade was overturned. 

The measures follow a tumultuous year for abortion rights supporters and opponents in the state. 

In March, Wyoming passed a “trigger bill” that was set to ban most abortions if Roe was overturned. In June the U.S. Supreme Court did so with its landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion.

Shortly thereafter, a group of women and nonprofits that support abortion access filed a suit claiming the abortion ban violates the state’s constitution. In July, on the day Wyoming’s abortion ban was set to go into effect, a district court judge granted a temporary restraining order that kept the ban from being enforced. In August the same judge issued a preliminary injunction, effectively freezing the abortion ban’s implementation until its constitutionality could be fully determined.

The case was sent to the state Supreme Court in December, but justices refused to hear it at this time and sent it back to the district court in Jackson. 

Most abortions remain legal in Wyoming. 

Roe restored

House Bill 117 – Abortion amendments would make abortion legal until the point of “viability”, or when a fetus could survive outside the womb.

Exemptions include, “when necessary to preserve the woman from an imminent peril that substantially endangers her life or health, according to appropriate medical judgment, or if the pregnancy is the result of incest … or sexual assault.”

It adds that no money from the Legislature could be used for abortions unless there’s a risk to the mother’s life or in cases of incest or sexual assault reported within five days of the victim being able to do so.

This kind of legislation is opposed by those who want to unequivocally ban abortion. Many members of Christian faiths see it as a form of murder. 

“I do worry that it has become more partisan than it should be.”

Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson)

Assault reporting requirements are also critiqued by groups like the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which argue they can present an “insurmountable obstacle” to getting an abortion.

It may not be ideal, but it’s more Constitutional than the law on the books now, according to Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson), who sponsored the bill.

There isn’t Republican support for the legislation, though.

“I do worry that it has become more partisan than it should be,” Yin said. “I don’t think all of Wyoming is on that extreme.”

According to a recent University of Wyoming survey, about 36% of Wyomingites who responded felt that abortion should be a personal choice and 36% accept abortion in cases of rape, incest or risk to a mother’s life. Another 19% “favor abortion if other reasons are clearly established,” according to the report, while 7% prefer a total abortion ban. 

Without Republican backing, the bill might not even be read in committee. Many members of Wyoming’s GOP self-identify as “pro-life” and more than 40 of those legislators have signed onto the other bills to further restrict abortion. 

“That hasn’t gone to a committee yet. We don’t know whether it will, but glad to see an attempt to at least put things back where they were, which was certainly better than where they are now,” said Sharon Breitweiser, executive director of Pro-Choice Wyoming.

Abortion pills

Senate File 109 – Prohibiting chemical abortions, sponsored by Sen. Tim Salazar (R-Riverton), would effectively ban most kinds of “chemical abortions,” or the use of certain drugs to cause an abortion.

“No person shall manufacture, distribute, prescribe, dispense, sell, transfer or use any chemical abortion drug in the state for the purpose of procuring or performing an abortion,” the bill states. 

Currently, conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom is suing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its approval of the drug ​​mifepristone, which is used in conjunction with other drugs to induce abortions. Many conservative Wyoming lawmakers have ties to that group, including Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), who sponsored the abortion ban currently on the books. 

A version of SF 109 was introduced in 2021 and another version came up last year. It passed the Senate both times, but was never heard in the House.

“I believe that the bill deserves to be heard,” Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette),  chair of the newly powerful Freedom Caucus, stated in an email.

Bear is one of many legislators co-sponsoring that bill and another House bill that restricts abortions.

Suzanne Baudelaire participates in an abortion rights protest in front of the Sheridan County Courthouse on Sunday, July 3, 2022. (Kevin Knapp)

Yin, however, believes SF 109 would, if it passed, run into the same hurdles as the law currently tied up in court, saying it seems, “just as unconstitutional if not moreso.”

Senate File 109 does provide exemptions for women who are sexually assaulted and in cases of incest — an addition from Salazar’s bill last year. There are also exemptions in cases of miscarriage and for the life of the mother, but that does not cover suicidality.

“No medical treatment shall form the basis for an exception under this paragraph if it is based on a claim or diagnosis that the pregnant woman will engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or other self-harm,” it states. 

Restricting access to abortion is linked to higher suicide risks for women of reproductive age, according to recent research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. 

The study didn’t find similar correlations for older women. It also does not conclusively find that less abortion access causes suicides, but study author Ran Barzilay said, “This association is robust—and it has nothing to do with politics.”

Wyoming had the highest suicide rate in the nation as of 2020, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Those children [conceived through rape or incest] are no less valuable to Wyoming than those conceived otherwise.”

Marti Halverson, Wyoming Right to Life

Those who violate the ban in SF 109 would be charged with a misdemeanor and face a sentence of up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $9,000 or both.

Salazar did not respond to requests for comment.

Wyoming Right to Life supports the lawsuit against the FDA and Salazar’s bill, according to former lawmaker Marti Halverson who leads the anti-abortion group. The organization has rallied pro-life advocates around the state to support that legislation next week, she added. The Senate Labor, Health & Social Services Committee is slated to hear testimony on the measure in Room W006 in the Capitol extension Jan. 25 at 8 a.m. 

Halverson, however, doesn’t support exemptions for rape and incest.

“Those children are no less valuable to Wyoming than those conceived otherwise,” she said.

The third abortion bill thus far introduced this session does not include such exemptions.

Defining abortion

House Bill 152 – Life is a Human Right Act is a lengthy bill, which in its first few lines states: “The legislature, as a coequal branch of government, may make declarations interpreting the Wyoming constitution.”

This is an early point of contention. It infringes on the judicial branch’s role as interpreter of the Constitution, according to Yin and Breitweiser. 

The bill goes on to define fetuses and unborn babies in a way that gives them full rights as a Wyoming citizen, and states, “abortion as defined in this act is not health care.”

That phrasing could be a workaround for the questions of constitutionality that has the “trigger ban” hung up in court. Wyoming’s Constitution states “Each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions. The parent, guardian or legal representative of any other natural person shall have the right to make health care decisions for that person.”

The legislation also outlines potential punishments. Those who provide abortions, according to the draft bill, would face a felony conviction, fines of up to $20,000 and up to five years in prison. There could also be civil penalties levied against those who performed the abortion. 

This bill’s abortion ban also notably does not include exemptions for rape or incest, and would not allow state money to fund any abortions. 

Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (Legislative Service Office)

“Rape is a horrible crime. No one should have to endure that kind of trauma,” bill sponsor Rodriguez-Williams said in an email. “And abortion re-traumatizes women, adding violence upon violence. There are many successful healthy people today that were conceived as a result of a violent act such as rape or incest, and their lives are no less valuable.”

Others have argued forcing women or children to endure a pregnancy to term is also a form of violence. 

Breitweiser with Pro-Choice Wyoming said banning funds for abortions that result from incest or rape may also put the state at odds with federal rules.  

“That runs afoul of my understanding of federal Medicaid regulations. They can’t do that,” she said. 

The UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also holds that, “States parties must provide safe, legal and effective access to abortion where the life and health of the pregnant woman or girl is at risk, or where carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the pregnant woman or girl substantial pain or suffering, most notably where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or where the pregnancy is not viable.”

House Bill 152 also stipulates that the Legislature can appoint the sponsor or co-sponsors of this bill to “intervene as a matter of right in any case in which the constitutionality of this act or any portion thereof is challenged.”

Currently, Rodriguez-Williams, House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett) and Right to Life Wyoming are fighting to intervene in the lawsuit against the current abortion ban. Their efforts failed at the district court level, and they have appealed the decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court. 

“By inserting that language into a statue, they’re giving themself standing as a matter of right [to intervene]. That’s pretty powerful,” according to Cheyenne attorney Abigail Fournier.

Legislators have given people rights to intervene in other kinds of cases in the past, she said, but adds that it’s unusual for lawmakers to give themselves the ability to intervene.

She said “it’s concerning because it’s self-serving.”

Madelyn Beck

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 Christian Republican Party is a ruse for imposing archaic beliefs on the citizens of Wyoming. These people think that if we freeze in time, we can live like it’s 1950 when minorities and women were second-class citizens, ruled over by the wealthy elders.

    The intellectual laziness of voters is to blame. They elected these clowns.

  2. Scientists with doctorates in biology can’t pinpoint the moment or the beginning of life during pregnancy. My Christian pastor offered maybe life began at the ‘quickening’ but didn’t use it as a bright line. Other beliefs say life begins at birth. This is a decision for doctors, ministers and families not legislators. There are so many medical and spiritual exceptions legislators cannot think or plan for. I just wish voters would have done their homework before the election and not vote for someone who would ignore the will of the people and push an agenda on 100% of pregnant women which is only supported by 7% of the people.

  3. So children conceived by rape or incest are as valuable to Wyoming as other children?
    That doesnt say much about Wyoming Maybe the child is valuable to Wyoming but what about the mother who can’t stand to look at it without feeling traumatized? I’d leave the child on this Williams woman’s doorstep and high tail it for an unknown location. But there’s a better soluution. High tail it to Colorado and have an abortion .

  4. I fail to understand how a group calling themselves “The Freedom Caucus” can be all about taking away a woman’s right to her own body.

  5. Does the will of the people even count anymore? Note the UW survey cited in the article that found only 7 percent in favor of a complete ban.

  6. It appears the freedom caucus wants
    Freedom, as long as they can legislate that freedom. If they successfully take freedom away from women, what freedoms will they take next?

    Unwanted pregnancy hurts a lot of people not just the woman that has the baby.

    I think things should stay as the exist as Wyoming voters said that they wanted to control their health and the government shouldn’t.

    The state used to be a really good place to live, a really good place to raise a family and a really good place to not have government control, we need to keep it like that. This freedom caucus needs to leave Wyoming and the world.

    1. Every baby needs to enter the world wanted and knowing it will be well-cared for. If that is not going to be the case, then that baby should not be born. Good grief! This earth is in grave danger of climate change; it’s vastly overpopulated. All other problems this earth has is related to its being just too full of people.

  7. So basically what is being said is that a pro life legislator that happens to try to serve in a crisis pregnancy center can’t vote on legislation. Really what you are saying that anyone who is a Christian and believes that life is a God given right can’t vote. Your great concern for women and girls who find themselves with unintended pregnancy falls flat when you condemn those that work to help them find ways to save their children from barbaric death. The clear intent of pro abortion proponents in this state and nationally is no longer “safe and rare abortion “ but murder of children in the womb right up to the moment of birth, and no care for children who survive abortion. May God forgive our nation for this sad holocaust of 50 years.

    1. Why doesn’t the pro-birth crowd show the same concern for kids who are already alive and looking to be adopted? Is it because adopting a kid would take effort?

      Being pro-birth is just a pissing contest to see who can pretend to be more pious than the next. There is nothing noble in being apart of the religious fringe that wants to force their fantasy having beliefs onto everyone.

  8. The right wing of the Wyoming Republican party has become an American Taliban, intent on controlling women’s bodies.

    1. American Taliban, exactly right. Women citizens have less rights than a foetus. “Less government” means get the government out of people’s medical decisions. Most of these Republicans are the real RINOs.

  9. Regarding my Park County representative and ardent anti-abortionist Rachel Rodriguez-Williams HD-50, interested residents might want some additional context concerning her. RR-W relocated to Wyoming from ritzy Marin County California fifteen years ago. She has degrees in criminal justice and law enforcement, so theoretically she would have a solid understanding of the law, and in fact had a career in law enforcement in Marin CA.
    RR-W’s primary day job in Cody is the Executive Director of the Serenity pregnancy couseling center in Cody. Her secondary job is running a mom-pop garage door business with her husband out of their garage (duh! ). For discussion purposes it is very fair to say that Rachel is a professional anti-abortionist first and foremost.
    RR-W recieved over $ 50,000 in salary in 2020 from Serenity, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit as the only paid manager there. Tax filings show Serenity recieved $ 480,00 in revenue and claimed $ 202,000 in business expenses that fiscal year, and claims over $ 900,000 in assets. Tax filings show Serenity has an NTEE tax exemption status based on it being a Christian entity. Serenity’s mission state (quote) “offers medical services to diagnose Pregnancy; and educational, practical and emotional support along with biblical truth to those experiencing a Crisis Pregnancy. The intent is to glorify god by serving his people. ” (endquote ). Serenity states it served 125 clients in FY 2020, which simple math shows they “invest” over $ 1600 per patient. Oh by the way, none of the other professional managers at Serenity recieve any compensation , including Medical Director Dr. Michael Bohlman. Only Rachel gets paid.

    Back in 1999 the Wyoming Legislature amended its own Ethics and Disclosure act, the principles by which it governs itself. I’ll quote that below, but here is what rises to the top: an elected sitting Legislator is PROHIBITED from voting on any act which he/she has a direct personal or private interest in. Yup.

    To wit: The act prohibits a legislator from making “an official decision or vote on an official decision” if the legislator has a personal or private interest in the matter. W.S. 9-13-106(a). The act does not prohibit the legislator from any and all participation, but does prohibit an official decision or vote thereon. So a legislator could still provide factual information to the decision-making body such as a legislative committee assigned to consider the potential legislation. However, the legislator should abstain from any vote affecting the potential legislation to avoid the appearance of impropriety. ( read that paragraph again ).

    What does this boil down to ? Put plainly , the Legislature’s own ethics specifically state that Rachel Rodriguez Williams is free to discuss or otherwise provide relevant information to the Legislature , but should abstain from any vote affecting the potential legislation to avoid the appearance of impropriety. QED.

    In her case, RR-W makes her living from Abortions, or the lack of them . It’s a 2-way street, the Zen of it . Anti-abortion is also Abortion. ).

    Conclusion: as a primary sponsor of H-109 and Wyoming’s trigger ban bill that passed last session , among other decidedly anti-abortion legislation before the body , Rachel Rodriguez Williams is free to propose bills and engage in the debate, but she cannot vote on them when the time comes. She must declare a conflict of interest and recuse herself. That is the very definition of Conflict of Interest and an ethics violation, and the course that must be adhered to.

    I will only add Rachel Rodriguez Williams is already historically in violation of House ethics, and appears to be doing it all over again . If she votes for any abortion legislation including her own , she is in violation. Which raises the question — Do ethics and conflicts of interest really matter to hardcore social conservatives ?
    Answer: Apparently not . Look around….

    1. Thanks, Dewey for doing this research for us. But who’s going to call RR-W out on her conflict of interest? The holier-than-thou Republicans who represent only 7% of Wyoming voters?

    2. Thank you for explaining all this Dewey. Much appreciated. Are there any legal repercussions if she indeed votes on this? Our legislators need to be called out for their personal views in determining legislation vs their constituents who voted them in office in good faith being promised their voices would be heard.

    3. UPDATE : I may have to amend my comment here , pending confirmation of some local Cody hearsay. I was told on January 25 that Rachel Rodriguez Williams is no longer serving as the paid director of the Serenity pregnancy counseling center in Cody . She may have stepped down at the turn of the year for whatever reason , after serving for 5 years at Serenity. R R-W and her ilk do not speak to me, so confirmation will have to come the long way around…
      Apologies if my information about her was outdated. It was the most recent data available on financial disclosures and tax status, but 2 years old.