Legal challenge filed in Teton County to halt abortion ban

Governor Mark Gordon said Friday night he would let the ban on most abortions become law this weekend without his signature.
The "Life is a Human Right" act, which Wyoming lawmakers passed this session, seeks to ban abortion in most cases. (Blogtrepeneur/CC by 2.0)

Update [7:20 p.m., March 10]: Governor Mark Gordon announced Friday night that he would let House Bill 152, which bans most abortions in the state, go into law without his signature. He wrote in a letter to the secretary of state that the new ban could cause further legal delays. He said he believes that the legislature should instead let Wyomingites vote on abortion rights through a constitutional amendment. 

Gordon did sign another bill, Senate Filing 109, which could ban several medications from being used to perform an abortion come July. He also announced he’s allowing another controversial bill — barring transgender girls and women from competing in female sports — become law without his signature.

A legal challenge has been filed in Teton County District Court to halt an abortion ban in Wyoming from going into effect this weekend. It requests an emergency hearing and a motion for a temporary restraining order.

This comes as a new bill banning almost all abortions, known as the “Life is a Human Right” act, is slated to become law Saturday at 11:59 p.m.

The bill will void the current abortion ban being held up in the courts.

Come Sunday morning, abortion will be illegal in the state of Wyoming, except in cases of rape or incest, or when specific medical procedures are needed to save a mother’s life.

The bill, HB152, attempts to address questions about last year’s ban, which is being challenged in court. It does that by defining abortion as not healthcare — a sticking point in the last case. It also criminalizes abortion providers and allows people to sue them.

Legal challenge

Plaintiffs on the legal challenge filed Friday morning are the same as those who sued the state last summer to block the current abortion ban. The group includes local abortion provider Giovannina Anthony and Teton County nurse Danielle Johnson.

Lawyers filed over 250 pages of documents Friday in Teton County District Court on behalf of plaintiffs. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

Laramie County OB-GYN Rene Hinkle and Albany County resident Kathleen Dow are also named as plaintiffs, along with abortion advocacy access group Chelsea’s Fund and Circle of Hope Healthcare, also known as Wellspring Health Access.

The complaint is directed at the State of Wyoming, the governor and Attorney General Bridget Hill. Local Teton County Sheriff Matthew Carr and Jackson Chief of Police Michelle Weber are also named.

It argues the plaintiffs and Wyomingites will “suffer irreparable harm.” The documents say that applies to the providers’ businesses and residents forced to continue their pregnancy or seek abortion services outside of Wyoming.

The plaintiffs maintain that the new abortion ban violates Wyomingites’ rights to health care and discriminates on the basis of sex. They also argue the ban is “unconstitutionally vague.”

A source close to the matter said plaintiffs hope a hearing will be scheduled Monday. They’re requesting a temporary restraining order as soon as possible to reinstate abortion access in the state. 

The district judge’s office wasn’t able to share when that hearing will be held.

The legal challenge will not affect Senate Filing 109, which is slated to ban several medications from being used to perform an abortion. That law won’t go into effect until July.

Appeals to the governor

Gordon’s pen stalled for weeks on the abortion access bills, along with another piece of legislation banning transgender women and girls from playing female sports. The GOP-led state legislature passed the bills earlier this year.

In an email, the governor’s communications director, Michael Pearlman, told KHOL that, “The Governor is considering these bills carefully.”

State Rep. Mike Yin advocates for pro-abortion candidates at an October rally in Jackson. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

Jackson Democratic State Representative Mike Yin told KHOL earlier this week he believed the Republican governor was evaluating the constitutionality of the controversial bills. 

“Many of us in the legislature as well realize that it will be challenged almost immediately,” Yin said Wednesday, before the legal challenge was filed. “Is it worth paying taxpayer dollars to have to defend these bills when maybe they shouldn’t become law in the first place?”  

Yin, who is one of Wyoming’s few Democratic lawmakers, was encouraging people to continue to contact the governor’s office if opposed to the yet-to-be-signed bills. 

“It’s each of our rights to reach out to the governor,” Yin said. 

Speaking to KHOL Thursday, ahead of the legal challenge and Gordon’s decision, Maggie Hunt, head of the Teton County Democratic Party, agreed with Yin. 

“Governor Gordon, who identifies as pro-life, I believe is really weighing the constitutionality of these issues,” Hunt said. “I have an email list of about 700 people that I’ve reached out to to call or write to the governor’s office. But in the end, personal stories in this particular instance are not going to have the weight of the fact that it’s unconstitutional with the governor.” 

Karyn Chin, a community organizer who kept a close eye on this year’s session, helped host an event this week with housing advocacy organization ShelterJH and LGBTQ+ group JHPride to recap the legislative session. 

She said she’s been asking people for weeks to reach out to Gordon, particularly on the legislative impacting trans girls playing sports.

“I have been calling and emailing him almost every day,” Chin said. “I am very much hoping that it is coming down to these last couple of days because he’s hearing what his constituents have to say.”

Chin — who also sits on KHOL’s community advisory board — said she and other local activists have not yet received a response. 

A representative for the Teton County GOP could not be reached for comment on the bills currently before the governor. Republican State Senator Dan Dockstader, who serves part of Teton County, voted for the abortion access bills and sponsored the trans sport legislation, declined to comment.

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