A lawsuit over the future of reproductive rights in Wyoming had another day in Teton County court this week.
Judge Melissa Owens ruled the state will have to explain how its abortion bans protect Wyomingites’ public health and welfare, among other information. This comes after the state said it wouldn’t provide any of the requested evidence in the case.
The audience — all women — was much smaller Monday than in past high-stakes hearings. Spectators from across the state filled the public benches earlier this year when Owens blocked the state’s near-total and medical abortion bans.
This week’s procedural hearing is part of a long legal battle that could eventually end up in the Wyoming Supreme Court.
How did we get here?
The plaintiffs include Jackson OB-GYN Giovannina Anthony — one of few abortion providers in the state — and Christine Lichtenfels, who runs abortion access group Chelsea’s Fund. Lichtenfels was at the Monday hearing and viewed the judge’s decision as a win.
“We’re pleased that we’re moving forward in getting more information and ensuring that people in Wyoming can still make their own healthcare decisions,” she said after the ruling. “This is a normal process between attorneys where attorneys on one side may object and you’d always try to reach an agreement.”
In this case, the state defense team objected to providing any of the requested information, such as explanations of the state’s interests in passing the laws and clarifications about language in the statutes.
Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde argued that these requests do not constitute facts in the case and therefore aren’t relevant to the case.
“Where’s the facts?” Jerde asked the courtroom. “State interests are not facts.”
In her ruling, Owens said the state would have to provide most of the requested information, including identifying which medical publications physicians can refer to in order to interpret the law’s language.
But plaintiffs didn’t get everything they wanted.
They were aiming to show that Wyoming’s abortion laws were religiously motivated, pointing to statements on the websites of the lawmakers that sponsored the bans.
For example, Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, says on his campaign site that he believes all human life is created with “a specific purpose by God’s Divine Hand.”
Owens ultimately said the state doesn’t have to submit this kind of information as evidence.
“These seek information regarding individual legislators’ viewpoints and campaign materials, which the court finds irrelevant,” Owens said.
Defendants have about a month to provide the other requested information. Abortion remains legal in Wyoming as the case makes its way through the courts.