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House Committee Advances Several Bills Limiting Women's Ability To Have Abortions

Wyoming Legislature

The Wyoming House Labor and Health Committee voted to advance several bills regarding abortion.

The first bill would not allow state or federal funds to go towards any public Wyoming university or community college student insurance plans that cover abortion procedures.

That bill would codify into statute a previous budget amendment.

Casper Rep. Chuck Gray, the bill's sponsor, said without this statute, it's akin to the state subsidizing abortion.

However, Amy Robohm, who works in the University of Wyoming's Student Health Services, said this bill is unnecessary because at UW, undergraduate students pay for their insurance out-of-pocket, while some graduate students do get subsidized by their department.

"I can honestly tell you that in the 15 years I've worked at Student Health, I have seen one, single student utilize their student medical insurance to pay for an abortion. One student in 15 years," she said.

Robohm added the best way to prevent abortions is to provide contraceptive options for students.

But several student activists speaking on behalf of anti-abortion groups from colleges around the state said they support the bill.

"[The bill] seems reasonable, because if government funding is going towards supporting abortion, that means that people are forced to support abortions whether or not they believe it's right. And that does not seem to be justice," said Olivia de Laveaga, a student at Wyoming Catholic College

Another bill the committee passed would outlaw an abortion performed for discriminatory reasons, such as the fetus having a disability or because of its race or national origin. Though it would allow abortions for "lethal fetal anomalies."

Cheyenne Rep. John Romero-Martinez, who sponsored the bill, said he wants to ensure these fetuses are given the chance to live, even if they have a disability.

Nathan Winters, executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of Wyoming, said he is in support of the bill because it will protect fetuses from termination if they are, for instance, diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly was concerned about the language of the bill and how this would work in practice with physicians, as well as the potential financial impacts this could have on women and families.

Dr. Giovannina Anthony, an OB/GYN practicing in Jackson, testified the bill could drastically impact how doctors counsel their patients on health care decisions.

"I think this is an extremely disturbing bill from that point of view. And if the legislature did go down this road and this bill became law, I would absolutely hope that there would be some sort of an amendment that would guarantee these families all the help they need with the special needs children, including the pregnant women who are with a baby with anomalies," she said.

Anthony added that maternal health care, ongoing therapy and health care for the child could cost families millions of dollars, depending on the situation.

After debate, the committee voted to amend the bill so the Department of Health would be required to reimburse mothers for costs related to pregnancy and additional therapies and care associated with raising the child until it is an adult.

"This to me is really important. We want healthy kids. And if this bill was to go through, there is the possibility that women will carry to term an unintended pregnancy that they would have chosen to terminate. And it's our responsibility to take care of that woman and that child," Connolly said of the amendment.

The next bill would require doctors to complete informed consent with any pregnant person about their options, including the opportunity to see and hear an ultrasound, before a person could seek an abortion.

It would also require the doctors to alert patients of any impacts an abortion could have on their mental health.

Dr. Dean Bartholomew, who practices family medicine in Powell, said informed consent is important for all medical procedures and that a bill like this makes sense.

"Why would this be any different for an abortion? Why would we not show the pregnant woman the size of the embryo or fetus, including the presence of the heartbeat if present, and give a pregnant woman all of the substantial facts?" Bartholomew asked.

Some of the committee were concerned about enforcement and procedure, they recommended the informed consent be in writing as to protect both the doctors and the patients.

The last bill would outlaw an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Rep. Connolly attempted to amend the bill so the Wyoming Department of Health could study if fetal heartbeat is a good determination of fetal viability, but it was shot down by the committee.

"It's not used [in] practice. We heard this morning from physicians that they're concerned that there would be a life threatening lack of care by some pregnant women by this new arbitrary definition," she said.

Connolly added Wyoming already has statutes that determine the viability of a fetus.

All the bills now advance to the House floor.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at cwheel11@uwyo.edu.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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