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Judge to decide whether to extend block on Wyoming abortion ban

Judge Melissa Owens heard arguments in the Teton County Courthouse in downtown Jackson.
Will Walkey
Judge Melissa Owens heard arguments in the Teton County Courthouse in downtown Jackson.

News Brief: 

A Teton County judge said she’ll rule Wednesday whether or not to extend a temporary halt on Wyoming’s abortion ban. The decision is likely to come before noon, when the two-week restraining order she set in July is scheduled to expire.

Judge Melissa Owens heard arguments for and against a preliminary injunction Tuesday. That would delay the Cowboy State’s abortion ban from being enforced until a lawsuit questioning its constitutionality settles, which could take months. She said she needs more time to research before her ruling.

Plaintiffs representing a group of Wyoming abortion providers, citizens and a nonprofit sued the state over its trigger ban in July. Owens granted an emergency restraining order two days later, which paused enforcement.

Wyoming’s one clinic that currently provides abortions, located in Jackson, continues to offer the procedure but faces uncertainty as the lawsuit moves through the state court system. Demand for abortions in Colorado has already increased as out-of-state patients seek care.

The suit came after the Wyoming Legislature passed a “trigger ban” earlier this year, which technically went into effect about a month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The law contains narrow exceptions when abortions are allowed, including for cases of rape, incest, or to preserve the health of the mother.

Plaintiffs argue the ban causes harm to pregnant women by denying them access to proper care protected by the state’s Constitution. They also said current exceptions are too vague and put providers in positions to deny procedures, something that Owens was grappling with at the courthouse Tuesday.

Defendents representing the state argue abortion isn’t a right specifically protected in the Wyoming Constitution, and that the practice was illegal in the Cowboy State for over 100 years before the Supreme Court’s original Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

No matter the ruling Wednesday, both parties are likely to take up the abortion ban in the state Supreme Court.

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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