Wyoming abortion ban blocked over Obamacare-era amendment to state constitution

By Kate Scanlon | OSV News

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — A Wyoming judge on March 22 temporarily blocked a new state law prohibiting most abortions in the state just days after it took effect after opponents said an Obamacare-era amendment to the state constitution may void the ban.

The ban would prohibit most abortions in the state, but has narrow exceptions for cases of rape or incest, risks to the mother’s life, or “a lethal fetal anomaly.”

Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens’ decision will temporarily block the ban from enforcement for at least two weeks amid a legal challenge, while another measure passed by the Legislature in March prohibiting the use of an abortion-inducing drug isn’t scheduled to go into effect until July 1, but also faces a separate legal challenge.

Opponents of the law argued that it violates the state constitution, pointing to a 2012 amendment the state adopted in protest of then-President Barack Obama’s signature health law, the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” The amendment states that adults have a right to make their own health care decisions. Opponents of the abortion ban say that provision applies to women seeking to undergo abortions and their doctors.

Supporters of the ban enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature say it states that abortion is not health care, but Owens said that is for the courts to determine, not lawmakers.

The dome of the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne is pictured May 6, 2021. A Wyoming judge March 22, 2023, temporarily blocked a new state law prohibiting most abortions in the state just days after it took effect after opponents of the law said an Obamacare-era amendment to the state constitution may void the ban. (OSV News photo/Nathan Layne, Reuters)

“The state can not legislate away a constitutional right. It’s not clear whether abortion is health care. The court has to then decide that,” Owens said at a hearing.

While abortion pills can be obtained in the state, Wyoming currently has no surgical abortion facilities. One such facility, Wellspring Health Access, plans to open in the state later this year. Its president, Julie Burkhart, said in a statement that, “We are relieved and delighted that abortion will remain legal in Wyoming,” and the ruling paves the way for the group to move forward with their plans to open a facility in Casper.

“Regardless of how anti-choice legislators try to spin it, abortion is health care, and Wyomingites have a constitutional right to that care,” Burkhart said. “Every day that abortion is legal in Wyoming is a victory for patients, families, and communities.

The facility’s construction was recently delayed by an alleged incident of arson, according to the Associated Press.

But pro-life advocates defended the ban, known as the Life is a Human Right Act.

SBA Pro-Life America’s State Policy Director Katie Daniel?said in a March 23 statement that the injunction “comes at the expense of unborn lives.”

“The will of the people in Wyoming is clear: Wyoming is a state that values life and the safety of women and girls,” Daniel?said. “It’s disappointing to see this judge grant this request for the abortion industry and the radical pro-abortion minority. In the Dobbs era, the right of the people to speak through their elected representatives and to make life-related policy for themselves must be respected.”

The Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned its previous rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (1992) that had found abortion access to be a constitutional right, and effectively returned the matter of restricting or permitting abortion to the states.

In the months that followed the Dobbs ruling, states moved to either restrict or expand access to abortion, prompting new legal battles over the procedure. Also in March, a divided Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a portion of the state’s near total ban on abortion, finding in a 5-4 ruling that women have a right to abortion when pregnancy presents risks to their health, not limited to a medical emergency.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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