Wyoming abortion pill ban challenged in court

(Photo by Nicholas Kamm/Contributor via Getty Images)

A legal dispute has been launched by supporters of abortion rights to prevent the implementation of Wyoming’s new ban on abortion pills.

Last week, Governor Mark Gordon (R-Wyo.) signed the first-ever express prohibition on abortion drugs in the United States, but the revised lawsuit was filed just two days later by a group who plans to operate the second facility offering abortions in the state. The ban would be implemented on July 1st if there is no intervention from the court.

The supporters of abortion rights were initially seeking an overturn of a different abortion ban, which was signed by the governor on Sunday without specific approval. This ban aims to override the arguments that have led to the temporary suspension of an earlier prohibition.

The lawsuit highlight that the ban on abortion pills and the general ban created uncertainty about what is allowed and what is not under the new law.

The revised lawsuit said that if the bans come into effect, “the fundamental rights of Wyoming women and their families will be taken away by the state government and those rights will cease to exist.”

Both of the recent Wyoming abortion restrictions include exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of a pregnant woman.

According to the non-profit research organisation, Guttmacher Institute, no other state had previously passed a law specifically prohibiting such medications.

However, 13 other states have already implemented outright restrictions on abortion, while 15 states have limited access to the medicine.

In another case in Texas, pro-life activists are requesting a federal judge to overturn the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) clearance of mifepristone, which is used in abortion medications. The two-pill combination of mifepristone and misoprostol is the most common method of abortion in the United States.

Currently, the only abortion facility in Wyoming only performs medication abortions, and since the prohibition went into effect this week, appointments at the clinic have been canceled.

Judge Melissa Owens of the Teton County District Court is scheduled to hold a hearing on Wednesday to decide whether to suspend the new prohibition whilst the legal challenge is ongoing.

Wellspring Health Access, an organization in Wyoming that provides reproductive healthcare services, has been working on opening a clinic in Casper, offering both surgical and pharmaceutical abortions. The organization is fighting the abortion pill ban as well as the broader abortion ban.

“Wyomingites deserve access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, including both surgical and medication abortion, and that’s why we are fighting to keep medication abortion legal in Wyoming,” said Julie Burkart, the president of Wellspring Health Access.

Four women, including two gynecologists, and Wyoming-based organization Chelsea’s Fund, which works towards promoting abortion access, are also suing.

Whilst contested, Wyoming’s Attorney General Bridget Hill’s spokesman Gordon Michael Pearlman asserted that his office will defend the legality of the new law.

Although there was a restriction when the US Supreme Court decided to reverse its historic verdict Roe v Wade, abortion was permitted in Wyoming until last week. In July 2023, Owens suspended the restriction after deciding that it would be damaging to both doctors and pregnant women who were facing problems.

Owens also found that a 2012 state constitutional amendment that guaranteed the freedom to make one’s own healthcare decisions permitted abortion.

The new broad ban argues that because abortion is not regarded as medical care, the amendment does not cover it.

Since Roe was overturned in June, it is up to states to regulate abortion, causing significant changes in the situation.

The courts have temporarily suspended or limited certain substances in Arizona, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina and Utah. Additionally, the courts have ordered the state of Idaho to permit abortions under medical crises.

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