Wyoming governor signs measure prohibiting abortion pills
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has signed into law the nation’s first explicit ban on abortion pills since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer.
Gordon, a Republican, signed the bill Friday night while allowing a separate measure restricting abortion to become law without his signature.
The pills are already banned in 13 states that have blanket bans on all forms of abortion, and 15 states already have limited access to abortion pills. Until now, however, no state had passed a law specifically prohibiting such pills, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
A group seeking to open an abortion and women’s health clinic in Casper said it was evaluating legal options.
“We are dismayed and outraged that these laws would eradicate access to basic health care, including safe, effective medication abortion,” Wellspring Health Access President Julie Burkhart said in a statement Saturday.
The clinic, which a firebombing prevented from opening last year, is one of two nonprofits suing to block an earlier Wyoming abortion ban. No arrests in the arson have been made, and organizers say the clinic is now tentatively scheduled to open in April, depending on abortion’s legal status in Wyoming then.
Currently Wyoming has only one abortion provider, a physician in Jackson who performs only medication abortions.
The Republican governor’s decision on the two measures comes after the issue of access to abortion pills took center stage this week in a Texas court. A federal judge there raised questions about a Christian group’s effort to overturn the decades-old U.S. approval of a leading abortion drug, mifepristone.
Medication abortions became the preferred method for ending pregnancy in the U.S. even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the ruling that protected the right to abortion for nearly five decades. A two-pill combination of mifepristone and another drug is the most common form of abortion in the U.S.
Wyoming’s ban on abortion pills would take effect in July, pending any legal action that could potentially delay that. The law would make prescribing, dispensing, distributing, selling or using abortion pills for the purpose of abortion a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a $9,000 fine. Women who got such abortions would be exempt.
The implementation date of the new, sweeping legislation banning abortions that Gordon allowed to go into law is not specified in the bill but under the state constitution could be as soon as Sunday, with punishment up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Exceptions would include cases of rape, incest and lethal fetal abnormalities.
The new law seeks to address issues that have arisen in court with a ban Gordon signed last year in anticipation that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. The new law says abortion is not health care under a 2012 state constitutional amendment that says Wyoming residents are entitled to make their own healthcare decisions, a provision that opponents of the ban argue applies to abortion.
Finding possible merit in that argument and others, a state district court judge has put the earlier ban on hold, with trial set for this December. As a result, abortion has remained legal in the state up to viability, or when the fetus could survive outside the womb.
In a statement, Gordon expressed concern that the latter law, dubbed the Life is a Human Right Act would result in a lawsuit that will “delay any resolution to the constitutionality of the abortion ban in Wyoming.”
He noted that earlier in the day, plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit filed a challenge to the new law in the event he did not issue a veto.
“I believe this question needs to be decided as soon as possible so that the issue of abortion in Wyoming can be finally resolved, and that is best done with a vote of the people,” Gordon said in a statement.
In a statement, Wyoming ACLU advocacy director Antonio Serrano criticized Gordon’s decision to sign the ban on abortion pills.
“A person’s health, not politics, should guide important medical decisions — including the decision to have an abortion,” Serrano said.
Of the 15 states that have limited access to the pills, six require an in-person physician visit. Those laws could withstand court challenges; states have long had authority over how physicians, pharmacists and other providers practice medicine.
States also set the rules for telemedicine consultations used to prescribe medications. Generally, that means health providers in states with restrictions on abortion pills could face penalties, such as fines or license suspension, for trying to send pills through the mail.
Women have already been traveling across state lines to places where abortion pill access is easier. That trend is expected to increase.
Since the reversal of Roe in June, abortion restrictions have been up to states, and the landscape has shifted quickly. Thirteen states now enforce bans on abortion at any point in pregnancy, and another, Georgia, bans it once cardiac activity can be detected, or at about six weeks’ gestation.
Courts have put on hold enforcement of abortion bans or deep restrictions in Arizona, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming. Idaho courts have forced the state to allow abortions during medical emergencies.