Jackson could lose its only practicing abortion provider

Dr. Katie Noyes was planning to provide the service at St. John’s starting next year, but she may not be allowed due to the uncertain legal environment.
Dr. Giovannina Anthony (left) and Dr. Katie Noyes (right) discuss the ongoing battle over abortion access in Wyoming at the recently-closed Women's Health and Family Care clinic. Noyes is planning to start seeing patients at St. John's in February, though her plan for providing abortions was recently thrown into flux. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

by | Dec 22, 2023 | Courts, Health

A Jackson family physician may not be able to continue providing abortions in 2024 due to the uncertain legal environment around reproductive rights in the state. 

It’s the latest shakeup in women’s health care in town, and it could mean losing the only in-person abortion provider practicing in the region.

Dr. Katie Noyes said the decision from St. John’s Health “came out of left field” a few weeks ago. 

“I just cried for most of the meeting because I was just too upset to have a discussion about it,” Noyes said.


In addition to addressing a full spectrum of women’s health needs, Noyes had offered medication abortions at the recently-closed Women’s Health & Family Care clinic for years and was planning to continue providing them at St. John’s starting in February. 

But she said the hospital’s legal team recently told her she wouldn’t be allowed to provide the service because of legal holdups. 

State lawmakers passed laws banning almost all abortions earlier this year, but a Teton County judge blocked them from going into effect.

“[Abortion] is absolutely, 100% legal in my mind, in providers’ minds and patients’. It is 100% legal,” Noyes said.

The judge heard arguments in the court case on Dec. 14, but has yet to issue a ruling. Either way, that decision is expected to be appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Melissa Owens hears arguments from the state’s attorney on Dec. 14 in the ongoing abortion case. Following nearly four hours of arguments, Owens did not make a ruling from the bench, leaving the fate of abortion access in Wyoming undecided. (Kathryn Ziesig/Jackson Hole News&Guide)

According to Karen Connelly, chief communications officer at St. John’s Medical Center, the hospital needs greater clarity around the law.

This is a fluid situation that we are continuing to follow, along with the legal experts we work with,” Connelly said. 

She didn’t comment on what additional “legal and related considerations” may be factoring into the hospital’s decision. 

But she said, while the hospital is supportive of physicians working within the full scope of their specialty, “the risks of non-adherence to the law for St. John’s Health could be severe, including risking our ability to continue to provide healthcare to the community.”

According to Noyes, the hospital’s legal team is worried about its medical licenses and its doctors being retroactively prosecuted if the courts eventually let the abortion bans go into effect. 

Under the statutes, anyone who provides an abortion could end up in jail for up to five years, or pay a fine of up to $20,000, or both.

Still, Noyes said she’s pushing the hospital to reconsider and let her provide abortion care. She said the final word could come in January and that she’s hopeful St. John’s will make the “right decision.”

We have enough people in this community who care about providing access to women and making sure that our rights are preserved that I think we’ll always figure out a way,” Noyes said. “It’s just how hard and how complicated it is in order to do it.”

In the meantime, she said abortion services are still available to Wyomingites — and residents across the Mountain West — online or in-person in Casper.

Another provider from the recently-closed clinic, Dr. Giovannina Anthony, has said she hopes to continue providing abortion care to the community through a private practice sometime next year, though the details are still uncertain.

***Correction: A previous version of this story stated Dr. Katie Noyes is an OB/GYN. It’s since been corrected to reflect her being a family physician.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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