Anti-Abortion Bills Gain Popularity

Feb 8, 2019

It's not really that unusual for anti-abortion bills to be considered by the legislature, but they frequently are defeated in committees or don't get much traction. But it appears that may be changing. Wyoming pro-choice supporters were unnerved by the passage of two bills that set certain requirements on doctors two years ago. This year, two more anti-abortion bills have passed the house that people have their eyes on.

The first bill would require women to wait 48 hours before they have an abortion. Pro-life groups say that other states that have passed such a law have seen a decrease in abortions. Bill sponsor Richard Tass of Buffalo said it's important that women take their time before making such an important decision.

"This bill only asks that a woman be given the gift of two days to consider this final act."

He added that it's not like buying clothes; it can't be returned.

The other bill sponsored by Scott Clem of Gillette would require doctors to report when they perform an abortion, and he wants to know the race and marital status of the pregnant woman. Clem, who did not respond to interview requests, has said on the House floor that it's important to know the numbers of abortions and who's getting them so that family planning and education efforts can be targeted towards those individuals. Clem's bill would fine medical providers who don't report such information. Casper Representative Chuck Gray supports this.

"The way our reporting statutes are written, they're basically toothless. It's basically very difficult for the Department of Health to know what's going on."

Gray admits that there is an overall goal for this type of legislation.

"Well, I think we want to be a pro-life state. Absolutely. I think that's something that we want," Gray said.

It's not something House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly wants and, in fact, she's annoyed by the legislation.

"These bills very honestly do very little, if anything. We have so few abortion providers in the state, we have so few abortions performed, that they are almost irrelevant," says Connolly

Wyoming health care officials are aware of only two doctors who perform abortions in the state and the numbers of abortions are up for dispute. The Guttmacher Institute said in 2014 that 120 abortions were provided in Wyoming, although many of them were for out-of-state residents. State numbers indicate fewer than five most years, but it's generally agreed that most women get abortions out of state.

Despite the fact that she doesn't think the bills do much, Representative Connolly doesn't like them.

"But it is chipping away at that fundamental notion of choice and of privacy and of the right of a woman to be able make choices with her doctor about what to do about reproductive health," says Connolly.

While it might seem like there are more bills, Sharon Breitweiser of NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming says she battles these bills all the time. When she started this work over 25 years ago, Wyoming voters defeated a constitutional amendment to ban abortions. Since then, Breitweiser says abortion has been under attack almost every year.

"You know, two years ago, everybody suddenly woke up when two bills did pass. It was a bad year, but in some ways our luck ran out. In years past, it's been good work, good lobbying, people contacting their legislators. But it's also been a little bit of luck, having the right committee chair, running out of time."

House Health and Labor Committee Chairman Sue Wilson of Cheyenne adds that the makeup of the legislature has changed.

"You know, I think the interest has always been there, but with the composition of legislature, there's been just a little bit more of an opening for the bills to make it to the floor and through the process."

Wilson, who has supported both the 48-hour waiting period and the abortion reporting bill, doesn't know if constituents are more interested in the issue than they have been in the past. But for those passionate about the issue, it's certainly important. By the same token, Breitweiser doesn't think citizen attitudes in Wyoming have changed.

"I have no reason to believe that the general public is any less amenable to a woman being able to make those choices or make safe and legal options available to her then they have in recent years," says Breitweiser.

Both the 48-hour waiting period and the abortion reporting requirement have moved to the Senate.