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Wyoming abortion rights supporters look at a new reality

Tim Salazar on the Senate floor
Bob Beck
Wyoming Public Media

Following the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, those in Wyoming are wondering what happens next. During the last legislative session, Wyoming lawmakers passed a so called "trigger bill" that bans abortions in the state except in the case of rape, incest, or the possibility of death or serious bodily injury for the mother, which likely would have to be certified by doctors.

The Wyoming attorney general will now review the Supreme Court decision and the governor will have to certify it, putting the new anti-abortion law in play. Gov. Mark Gordon praised the decision Friday, saying that regulation of abortions should be up to states.

The penalty for violating the law would be up to 14 years in prison. Last year, state statistics indicated that 67 Wyoming residents received abortions in the state. Experts say that most people leave the state for abortions anyway, but those who have fought for abortion rights still are concerned about the impacts to women in Wyoming. Julie Burkhart had planned on starting an abortion services facility in Casper this year, but it was severely damaged after someone tried to burn it down. She said this ruling will impact quite a few people.

"So with this further limited access to abortion care in the state of Wyoming, even more people will be forced to go out of state to places like Colorado and Montana or to carry a pregnancy that was unintended to term," Burkhart said. She added that people will face new financial barriers, too. "Taking time off from work, finding childcare for people who are already parents, and also transportation"

Sharon Breitweiser of Pro-Choice Wyoming said the state used to be in the middle of the pack when it came to abortion laws, but thanks to recent elections things changed.

"Today, we are one of the 13 worst states in the nation on abortion access, largely due to the election of anti-choice extremists and what I think are bullies in state government and one of our state political parties," she said.

Breitweiser also doesn't see things changing anytime soon. In fact, Casper State Rep. Pat Sweeney, who voted against the bill, says things are likely going to get a lot worse.

While the Senate added a late amendment to allow some protections for the mother, the House had previously voted against that. Sweeney said there was also other anti-abortion legislation, such as banning medication induced abortions, that didn't pass.

"But there's a good chance that the legislature will revisit those in the future. The only way to stop these very strict restrictions is for people in Wyoming who support personal freedom to speak out and hold their elected officials accountable," said Sweeney.

And he is not optimistic about the law swinging back.

"I don't see a way to fight back on this. And it was pretty futile to even vote against it." Sweeney added.

Of course, some legislators were delighted with the ruling. Riverton Sen. Tim Salazar was the floor manager of the legislation banning abortion.

"For those of us who have prayed for this day as a matter of faith, we thank the Savior for hearing our prayer," said Salazar. "And now each state can determine through its elected state legislature their own laws on abortion."

Breitweiser said they will certainly be involved in that process, but she added they realistically will need to find ways to get people the reproductive health care they need, either in Wyoming or not.

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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