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A bill moving through the House could temporarily close Wyoming’s only remaining abortion clinic

Wellspring Health Access clinic in Casper, Wyoming.
Kamila Kudelska
/
Wyoming Public Media
Wellspring Health Access clinic in Casper, Wyoming. It's the only facility that provides surgical abortions left in the state.

New restrictions to abortion access in Wyoming could come out of the Legislature this session.

Introduced last week, House Bill 148 would require clinics that provide surgical abortions in the state to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers — also known as day surgery centers.

For now, the law would only impact the Wellspring Health Access clinic in Casper, which is the only facility that provides surgical abortions left in Wyoming.

Julie Burkhart, the founder of that clinic, said the bill could create costs for her facility and require at least a temporary closure to do physical renovations in order to bring it in line with the new statute.

“I firmly believe we would have to close down for some amount of time,” said Burkhart. “It’s clearly a ploy to make sure that abortion services are not provided in Wyoming.”

But bill sponsor Representative Martha Lawley (R-Worland) says it’s important to regulate abortion while it remains legal in the state.

“We still have an obligation and need to protect the health and safety of women,” said Lawley.

Some lawmakers say the bill is designed to force the Casper clinic out of business. They call these requirements unnecessary, especially after a near-total abortion ban passed the Legislature last year.

The statewide ban on the care is moving through district court after a legal challenge, and a decision could come any day. If the near-total abortion ban is struck down as unconstitutional and abortion remains legal, bills like House Bill 148 and others could pose more barriers to clinics trying to offer surgical abortions.

Representative Mike Yin, a Democrat from Jackson, sponsored a bill submitted this session – House Bill 76, the Reproductive Freedom Act – that would have kept the state from prohibiting access to an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus. Yin’s bill died when it failed to be introduced by Friday.

“I think it's unfortunate that we're having legislation that specifically only targets one business, but that's where we're at politically,” said Yin.

Critics call bills like HB 148 TRAP laws, short for “Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers.” They point to research from 2018 that cites no substantial difference in health outcomes for women who had their surgical abortions at licensed ambulatory surgical centers versus non-licensed facilities.

The bill would not impact Wyoming’s other abortion provider. As of this month, St. John’s Health in Jackson is also home to a doctor who provides abortions, but that only includes ones done through medications — a type of abortion often performed earlier in the pregnancy, compared to surgical ones.

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee voted 7 to 2 to refer the surgical abortion bill to the House Committee of the Whole. It could then proceed to the Senate.

Surgical and medication abortions remain legal in Wyoming.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

Chris Clements is a state government reporter and digital media specialist for Wyoming Public Media based in Laramie. He came to WPM from KSJD Radio in Cortez, Colorado, where he reported on Indigenous affairs, drought, and local politics in the Four Corners region. Before that, he graduated with a degree in English (Creative Writing) from Arizona State University. Chris's news stories have been featured on KUNC, NPR newscasts, and National Native News, among others.
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