Wyoming judge blocks first-of-its-kind chemical abortion ban

The state legislature was the first in the nation to explicitly outlaw medication abortions earlier this year. 
Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde gives final remarks Thursday evening opposing the plaintiffs’ requested temporary restraining order to halt the law that would ban medical abortions starting July 1. Ninth District Court Judge Melissa Owens ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, granting the TRO [Kathryn Ziesig/Jackson Hole News & Guide]

All abortions remain legal in Wyoming after a judge in Teton County blocked a ban on pills used for abortions from going into effect July 1. The state legislature was the first in the nation to explicitly outlaw medication abortions earlier this year. 

Ninth District Court Judge Melissa Owens halted the ban Wednesday afternoon. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against it, including medical providers, nonprofits and abortion-rights advocates, argue the law would violate the state constitution. 

“Medication abortion is safe, effective, and has been approved by the FDA for more than two decades. Abortion pills account for more than half of all abortions in the United States and we are proud to provide medication abortion to patients from across the Mountain West at our Casper facility,” Wellspring Health Access President Julie Burkhart said in a statement. Wellspring is among the plaintiffs in the suit. 

Terminating a pregnancy with medication is the most common form of abortion in Wyoming, according to a recent report from the Wyoming  Department of Health. The new law would have made it illegal to prescribe, distribute, dispense, use or sell any drug for the purpose of performing an abortion. Violators found guilty could face fines and up to six months imprisonment. 

Owens ruled that the plaintiffs made strong arguments for their case, and that allowing the ban to go into effect could cause “possible irreparable injury.” She made a similar decision earlier this year for a more sweeping abortion ban also passed by the legislature. A trial for that case is set for April of next year, according to the Casper Star Tribune

The main legal question is how abortion is defined. The Wyoming constitution has a clause specifically protecting people’s rights to make their “own healthcare decisions.” Defendants in these lawsuits have been trying to argue that “abortion” is not “healthcare.”

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About Will Walkey

Will is KHOL's first full-time reporter and producer. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, he recently graduated from Columbia University with a Master's Degree in journalism. He likes to read and write about housing, local politics, and history, and spends most of his free time fishing or biking. He's excited to be living in Wyoming, and looks forward to honing in on his unique radio voice by highlighting the locals that make Jackson special. Contact Will with tips at will@jhcr.org, and follow him on Twitter at @WillWalkey.

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