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New abortion bill awaits Governor’s signature but some question its constitutionality

An anti-abortion sign depicts a mother and child with the words "choose life" on the side of a building.
Kamila Kudelska
Wyoming Public Media
A choose life sign in downtown Cheyenne.

A bill that defines abortion as not healthcare and criminalizes providers who perform abortions has passed both houses in the Wyoming Legislature. If signed by the governor, this bill immediately becomes law and the current abortion ban that is being held up in the courts will be void. Lawmakers for and against it have stated that this bill will most likely be immediately questioned.

Last year, the Wyoming legislature passed a trigger ban that went into effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. That law is currently being challenged, so abortion is still legal in the state. One of the main arguments against the trigger ban is that it violates a certain section of the Wyoming Constitution: Article 1, section 38: Right to health care access. It reads, “Each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions. The parent, guardian or legal representative of any other natural person shall have the right to make healthcare decisions for that person.”

Wyoming citizens voted this into law in 2012 in response to Obamacare. The courts now have to decide if abortion is defined as healthcare.

But House Bill 152, known as the Life is a Human Right Act, tries to answer that specific question. The bill reads, “Regarding article 1, section 38 of the Wyoming constitution, abortion as defined in this act is not health care.”

In addition to definitions, it has language that criminalizes providers who perform abortions and allows people to sue those providers.

Its journey through the House was not an easy one, since many lawmakers believe the way the bill is written is unconstitutional. Plus, some said the current abortion ban going through the courts needs to be tested before this bill can come into action. The bill passed the House with a trigger ban on a trigger ban, essentially meaning the bill would not become law until the Wyoming Supreme Court deemed the current abortion ban unconstitutional. But that was immediately stripped by the Senate.

During the second reading in the Senate, an amendment was added that cites specific medical procedures that are allowed when needed to save the mother’s life. Those included an ectopic and molar pregnancy, among others. There is also an exception to allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. This was added by the Senate by the behest of Senate President Ogden Driskill (R-Devil’s Tower).

However during its last reading in the Senate, Sen. Bill Landen (R-Riverton) said a constituent reached out to him and urged him to vote against the bill because the decision whether to have an abortion or not is not black and white.

“By necessity legislation has to be black and white so it leaves doctors and families in a very difficult place,” said Landen. “When it comes to making a decision like this, that is almost never black and white.”

Several senators said the bill is poorly written, potentially unconstitutional and will cause confusion. But Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester) said it just comes down to abiding by the Wyoming Constitution.

“I'll read it again…article 1, section 2 of the Wyoming Constitution, ‘Equality of all in their inherent right to life, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness. All members of the human race are equal.’ That's what this bill does,” he told the Senate.

It will become law immediately after and if Gov. Mark Gordon signs it into law. That will make the current abortion ban going through the courts void. Most lawmakers believe it will be immediately questioned.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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