Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon looks on during the opening of the Western Governors Association Winter Meeting, Nov. 6, 2023, in Teton Village, Wyo. Source: Bradly J. Boner/Jackson Hole News & Guide via AP, File

Wyoming Governor Vetoes Abortion Restrictions, Signs Transgender Medical Care Ban for Minors

Mead Gruver READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Wyoming's governor on Friday vetoed a bill that would have erected significant barriers to abortion, should it remain legal in the state, and signed legislation banning gender-affirming care for minors.

The abortion bill rejected by Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, would have required facilities providing surgical abortions to be licensed as outpatient surgical centers, adding to their cost and the burdens they face to operate.

Women would have had to get ultrasounds no less than 48 hours before either a surgical or pill abortion to determine the fetus's gestational age and location and viability of the pregnancy.

Abortion is legal in Wyoming pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging new laws to ban the procedure. The bill was aimed at the state's only full-service abortion clinic, Wellspring Health Access. The Casper facility opened in 2023 – almost a year later than planned after being badly burned in an arson attack by a woman who opposed abortion.

Gordon said in announcing the veto that the measure would have "properly regulated" clinics. But he said amendments added by lawmakers made it vulnerable to legal challenge.

"The state is closer than ever to a decision on the constitutionality of abortion in Wyoming," Gordon said in a statement, adding that the bill "had the potential to further delay the resolution of this critical issue for the unborn."

Most abortions at Wellspring are administered through pills but the clinic has been able to perform surgical abortions as well, according to clinic officials who opposed the bill.

The measure would have required abortions at any clinic to be provided only by a licensed physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) away.

The result would have been major new costs to renovate Wellspring to meet ambulatory surgical facility standards while getting "medically unnecessary" admitting privileges for its doctors, clinic founder Julie Burkhart said in an emailed statement. Women also faced added travel and time-off-work costs to meet the ultrasound requirement, Burkhart added.

She said the bill was meant to close down the clinic, which would hurt people who are in need of abortion services.

"Outlawing abortion will never serve as a vehicle for making this health care obsolete," she said.

Last year, the Wyoming Legislature passed – and Gordon signed into law – measures that restrict abortion in the state, including the first-in-the-U.S. explicit ban on abortion pills. Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens in Jackson has put the laws on hold while considering lawsuits against them filed by Wellspring and others.

At a hearing in December, Owens said she planned to issue a ruling rather than let the lawsuit go to trial. On Monday, however, she sent all major questions in the case to the state Supreme Court to consider instead.

Owens has shown sympathy for Wyoming's abortion-rights supporters. She has said they are likely to prevail, for example, with their argument that abortion is allowed under a 2012 state constitutional amendment, which states that competent adults have the right to make their own health care decisions.

Attorneys for Wyoming counter that the amendment – approved in response to the federal Affordable Care Act – was never intended to apply to abortion.

Wyoming's latest abortion bill faced a higher bar just to be debated in this year's legislative session, which ended March 8. Bills in the four-week session not related to the budget needed a two-thirds vote to be introduced.

"Those of us who stand for legislation like this, we know deep down that life has meaning beyond this floor," Sen. Dan Dockstader, a Republican from Afton, said in a debate before the bill passed the Senate on a 24-6 vote March 1.

The bill earlier cleared the state House with a 53-9 vote.

While rejecting the abortion bill, Gordon signed into law a measure that makes Wyoming the latest state to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, saying he supports the bill's protections for minors. He added, however, that he also thinks such legislation amounts to the government "straying into the personal affairs of families."

At least 24 states have adopted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for minors, and most of those states have been sued. A federal judge struck down Arkansas' ban as unconstitutional. In Idaho and Montana, judges' orders are in place temporarily blocking enforcement of the bans.

Wyoming lawmakers also passed bills this session enforcing parental rights in education. Gordon said the Legislature needs to "sort out its intentions" on parental rights.

by Mead Gruver

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