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Anti-abortion rights bills are making their way through the legislature

Riverton Sen. Tim Salazar discusses his bill banning chemical abortions.
Bob Beck
Wyoming Public Radio
Riverton Sen. Tim Salazar discusses his bill banning chemical abortions.

Anti-abortion bills have always come up in the Wyoming legislature, but recently a handful of measures requiring doctors that provide abortions to perform certain tasks have been adopted. So following the recent actions of other states, it was no surprise the legislature considered some stronger legislation this year and it could potentially send two bills to the governor this time around.

One bill would ban the use of abortion drugs and another could eventually ban abortion competely. Lobbists against such legislation say the election of more conservative lawmakers has led to the increase in anti-abortion bills.

Casper Sen. Charles Scott was disappointed by the outcome of a bill that passed the Senate this week banning chemical abortions or the use of drugs. Scott has been in the legislature since the 1970's and has seen attempts to ban abortions in Wyoming for many years.

"I would guess, 10 years ago the Senate result would have been reversed on that bill. It's a gradual change that's happened," he said.

For many years the House of Representatives would send abortion bills to the Senate where they'd either be defeated or stymied. A lot of that was because of Scott, who is an abortion-rights supporter and chaired the Senate Health and Labor committee where most of those bills were assigned. He kept many of them from being heard. Scott is no longer chairman of that committee and the legislature is more conservative.

"I think what's happening is that the right to life forces have gradually gained political strength and the prochoice forces have lost it. They've been too reliant on the Supreme Court decisions and have not paid attention to advocacy at the grassroots. They've gradually lost support," said Scott.

Despite what you might think, Wyoming has a history of being a prochoice state. In 1994, 61 percent of Wyoming voters rejected the Human Life Protection Act ballot measure that was designed to end abortions. Scott doubts those numbers have changed dramatically and that most people think the choice on abortion should be left up to the woman.

"It's been a change in who gets elected, but that's the way it works," said Scott.

While the House has always had a good share of conservative members, the Senate was different. But after focused effort by the Wyoming Republican party, things have changed and more prolife people have been elected. Sabrina King is a lobbyist for the Wyoming ACLU and she said the change is very noticeable.

"I mean, for me I think the reality is that the culture war has come to the Wyoming capitol for whatever reason, and it has come pretty hard over the course of the past couple of years. But I think this year more so than other years," said King.

Sara Burlingame is a former legislator who heads up the organization Wyoming Equality. She noted that Wyoming frequently ranks near the bottom when it comes to women who hold elected positions, especially in the legislature. She said that makes a big difference.

"Like when women aren't here and when we're not providing our voices and our perspectives to say, 'Look, women in Wyoming make smart, healthy decisions about our healthcare when it's left between us, our partners, our doctors, our nurses," said Burlingame.

Sharon Breitweiser is in charge of the organization Pro-Choice Wyoming. She's fought off a number of what she calls anti-choice bills for many years, but she noted that the margins were getting closer and closer. She agreed that getting the right people elected is important. Breitweiser said this year's legislation is troubling, but they have to stay focused.

"We just have to keep fighting. We can't allow this climate to continue. We can't allow people to give up.The pendulum will swing back," said Breitweiser.

And she means that. Breitweiser said as people start getting impacted by the policies on the ground, they will push back and readjusting will occur.

In the meantime, the ACLU's King said the legislature won't keep Wyoming abortions from happening. Many will continue going out of state and she said that there are even ways for women to acquire abortion drugs. But King's worry is that they may not be used under a doctor's care.

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.

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