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Where abortion rights stand in the Mountain West as state legislatures convene

(Left) More than 100 people have been attending weekly anti-abortion prayer vigils outside the site of a future Casper, Wyo., clinic offering abortion and other health care services. (Right) Abortion-rights supporter Rikki Hayes holds up a sign near the site of a Wellspring Health Access clinic.
Arielle Zionts/KHN
(Left) An anti-abortion prayer vigil in Casper, Wyo. (Right) Abortion-rights supporter Rikki Hayes holds up a sign near the site of a Wellspring Health Access clinic.

News brief: 

The Mountain West region continues to be divided over abortion rights in the wake of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Some state lawmakers want to further protect the rights of people seeking abortion care, while others are looking to make it more challenging for residents to get the medical procedure.

In Nevada and Colorado, legislators plan to introduce bills to protect the growing number of patients who travel from out of state to seek abortions – and the providers that serve them. Other potential bills in Colorado include a requirement that commercial insurers cover abortion, plus seperate funding for expanded reproductive healthcare programs.

A New Mexico bill would prohibit discrimination against those seeking abortion care. That follows anti-abortion ordinances at the city and county level that recently passed in the eastern part of the state. The legislation’s sponsor, Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, said last week during a hearing that local politicians shouldn’t be able to limit people’s rights that have been previously guaranteed by the state, especially in rural areas.

“These are life-saving healthcare treatments,” she said. “We want to make sure people in New Mexico understand that they have access without any fear of persecution, prosecution or discrimination.”

Meanwhile, the region's more conservative states are looking to limit abortions. In Idaho, where a near-full ban is in effect, some legislators want to prevent minors from traveling out of state for the medical procedure. In Wyoming, where a ban is tied up in court, an even stricter bill is making its way through the statehouse. It would outlaw almost all abortions – including in the case of incest or rape – with very limited exceptions to protect the health of pregnant women in extreme circumstances.

“I see it as a situation of worldview,” state Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, said in recent testimony. “What is life, and what is not life and when life was created.”

Utah also has a partial ban on abortion in effect, but a bill that could change court proceedings there could decide the fate of a more restrictive law currently blocked by a judge.

A map of where abortion is now banned, and where potential trigger laws are facing litigation, is available here.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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