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‘An impossible choice’: Teton county doctor cancels abortion appointments amid ban

"I'm definitely at the point where my frustration has become anger," said Dr. Giovannina Anthony, one of Wyoming's only abortion providers.
Hanna Merzbach
"I'm definitely at the point where my frustration has become anger," said Dr. Giovannina Anthony, one of Wyoming's only abortion providers.

A near-total abortion ban took effect in Wyoming over the weekend.

Dr. Giovannina Anthony, an OB-GYN, is one of two abortion providers in the state. Both are at her clinic in Jackson.

Anthony said she already had to cancel three appointments.

She serves patients from Wyoming, and Idaho, which also passed some of the harshest restrictions on abortions last year.

“What these laws do … is they force physicians like myself to choose between providing good, evidence-based care and my own welfare,” she said Sunday morning after the ban went into place.

“That’s an impossible choice to make,” she added.

Anthony could now be charged with a felony for giving an abortion in Wyoming. This could mean up to five years in prison, a fine of $20,000 or both.

According to 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wyoming offers some of the lowest number of abortions in the country. Now it’ll be even more difficult to get one, as Wyoming joins 13 conservative states in enacting a near-total ban on pregnancy-ending care.

The state’s new law, referred to as the Life is a Human Right act, bans all abortions, expect in instances of rape, incest or dire risks to the pregnant patient’s life.

Legal challenges

It’s possible the ban could only be in place for a couple days. A group of abortion access advocates, which includes Anthony, filed a legal challenge Friday morning in Teton County. They’re asking the judge to temporarily block the law while the case makes its way through the court.

The situation mirrors what happened in summer of 2022, when Wyoming’s trigger ban went into effect and the same group sued to block it. Since then, that ban has been in legal limbo.

The GOP-led legislature passed the Life is a Human Right act earlier this year in order to address some of the questions about the law being challenged in the courts.

Republican Governor Mark Gordon let the new ban pass without his signature.

“I have acted without bias and after extensive prayer, to allow these bills to become law,” he wrote in a Friday letter to the secretary of state.

He said the new ban could cause further legal delays and that he’d rather see a constitutional amendment — meaning putting this issue up to voters in the future.

“These questions need to be decided as soon as possible so that the issue of abortion in Wyoming can finally be resolved,” Gordon wrote.

Anthony said the state is trapped in a “never-ending cycle” where conservative lawmakers pass abortion bans only to be halted by the courts. She sees no end in sight.

“I’m going to fight for my patient’s rights and for the ability to provide the care to my patients that I was trained to provide,” Anthony said. “If we have to do this go-around again and again, then we’re going to do it.”

Gordon did sign a law Friday which bans abortion pills. Wyoming made national news over the weekend for being the first state to specifically outlaw the pill, mifepristone.

That law will go into effect in July. According to Anthony, the group will also challenge that legislation.

“I don’t see this ending anytime soon,” Anthony said. “It will take a generation for this to change.”

A win for anti-abortion movement

Anthony and healthcare providers from around the state spoke up in hearings while lawmakers were considering the bill this year.

“It is just so infuriating to me that people who do not operate in this space would even think that we would fight legislation that would actually help our patients,” Anthony said. “That is just the ultimate insult.”

While Anthony said she’s feeling sad and angry, others around the state, like Marti Halverson, who leads Wyoming Right to Life, are rejoicing.

“We think that these laws going into effect are a good thing,” Halverson said. “We’re happy”

She said the group is disappointed the law has already been challenged in the courts but still supports the moves from state lawmakers.

“I think the best way to go about this is to honor the action of the legislature, period,” Halverson said.

The law’s chief sponsor, Republican Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, didn’t respond to requests for comment, but wrote on Facebook after the law was enacted, “I am so proud of my colleagues for their pro-life stance!”

Republican State Senator Dan Dockstader was the only lawmaker who serves Teton County to vote in favor of the abortion restrictions. He declined to comment.

A Teton County judge could issue a temporary block on the near-complete abortion ban in what lawyers expect to be a Wednesday hearing.

This story is being updated.

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.
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