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Wyoming outlaws abortion pills and puts a national spotlight on the state

Mifeprex, formerly called RU-486, is the brand name of the abortion pill called mifepristone.
Michelle Del Guercio
Mifeprex, formerly called RU-486, is the brand name of the abortion pill called mifepristone.

Wyoming recently became the first state to explicitly ban the use of pills for abortion. The new law comes as chemical abortion is in the national spotlight due to a legal battle over a specific medication in Texas.

Medication abortion accounts for more than half of abortions in the U.S., according to the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute. It’s been proven to be a safe and effective way to terminate a pregnancy. Pills like mifepristone can often be prescribed online and sent through the mail, and conservative state lawmakers have been pushing to ban this practice.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed the chemical abortion ban Friday, March 17, which states it is “unlawful to prescribe, dispense, distribute, sell or use any drug” to perform an abortion. Those found guilty of violating this law could face a $9,000 fine and up to six months in prison, though pregnant patients will be exempt from any charges or penalties.

As of Sunday, abortions in all forms are illegal in Wyoming due to another law, the “Life is a Human Right Act.” A state judge in Teton County will hear arguments over whether or not to enforce this ban on Wednesday as legal challenges question its constitutionality. Gordon allowed this bill to go into law without his signature because he was worried it would delay and complicate an ongoing legal battle over a trigger ban that was blocked last year.

“I believe this question needs to be decided as soon as possible so that the issue of abortion in Wyoming can be finally resolved, and that is best done with a vote of the people,” Gordon said.

It is already challenging to obtain an abortion in the Cowboy State. Only medical abortions are provided, and the only clinic that offers those is located in Jackson – a remote resort town inaccessible for most Wyoming’s residents – and one doctor there has already canceled some appointments. A planned abortion clinic in Casper was torched by an arsonist. So, many women drive hours and hundreds of miles to Colorado or elsewhere.

“They're either going to go out of state, or they're going to use even more painful ways to get abortion done. We know that from the past,” said Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, during testimony last month.

Many Republican-controlled states have been tightening restrictions on abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. In the Mountain West, Idaho already has a near-total abortion ban – including chemical abortions – and state lawmakers are considering a bill that would criminalize abortion trafficking, or transporting a minor for an abortion across state lines without parental consent. Utah, meanwhile, has banned abortion clinics altogether.

For pro-abortion states like Colorado, this could mean more people traveling there to gain access to abortion care. Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and nine other states are suing the Food and Drug Administration in an effort to improve abortion pill access.

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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