Republican lawmakers, advocacy group can’t intervene in Wyoming abortion case

With the decision from the state’s supreme court, Wyoming is now one step closer to a final resolution in its ongoing legal battle over reproductive rights.
Wyoming State Reps. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams and Chip Neiman listen during a hearing in Teton County District Court last summer on their request to defend Wyoming's abortion ban. They were denied and later appealed that decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court. (Kat Ziesig/Jackson Hole News&Guide)

As abortion rights remain in limbo in Wyoming amid an ongoing legal battle, one thing is now sure: Republican state lawmakers and an anti-abortion nonprofit can’t join the case.

That’s the decision from the Wyoming Supreme Court, which ruled today that letting the group provide evidence would further politicize the issue.

“We knew it was a long shot,” said Marti Halverson, the leader of Wyoming Right to Life, the nonprofit that tried to intervene. “Nevertheless, we are disappointed.”

The state’s highest court affirmed Teton County Judge Melissa Owens’s ruling from last summer, saying letting the parties intervene would only further delay a final decision about the legality of the state’s abortion laws. 


Two of the proposed intervenors, Reps. Rachel Rodriguez Williams [R-Cody] and Chip Nieman [R-Hulett], sponsored the near-total abortion bans currently blocked by Teton County court and have argued their work is in jeopardy.

But, the supreme court rejected the lawmakers’ argument that their ability to regulate abortion — or the health and welfare of the public — was being threatened. 

“Regardless of the outcome of this case, the legislature may still legislate in those areas,” reads the opinion published at 8:30 a.m. today.

Rodriguez-Williams said she was disappointed but proud to continue her “pro-life work.”

I pray that the courts will uphold Wyoming’s pro-life law, which will save lives and protect women’s health,” Rodriguez Williams wrote via email. “No one can deny that life is a human right.”

Plaintiff Christine Lichtenfels (center) listens during a hearing last summer in Teton County District Court. She’s suing the state to protect abortion access, along with abortion providers and women of child-bearing age. (Kathryn Ziesig/Jackson Hole News&Guide)

Owens is currently considering a decision in the wider abortion case, after hearing arguments in December. 

One of the plaintiffs in that litigation, Chelsea’s Fund Executive Director Christine Lichtenfels, said if the intervenors were allowed to join, it could have delayed a final decision by months.

She said today’s supreme court opinion allows the case to keep moving forward. 

“That’s how we can get to a final resolution of whether Wyoming women have the freedom and privacy under the Wyoming constitution to make their own healthcare decisions,” Lichtenfels said.

A ruling on the future of reproductive rights in Wyoming could come any day.

In the meantime, abortion remains legal in the state.

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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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