Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

Exceptions added to abortion legislation

CASPER —A bill that could severely restrict abortions in Wyoming passed its second reading on Tuesday in the Senate with an amendment to exclude pregnancies that are the result of incest or sexual assault.

House Bill 92 would go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. That possibility has become more likely as the high court has moved to the right.

The amendment by Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, and co-sponsor Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, is nearly identical to an earlier one offered by Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson. Yin’s amendment failed in the House last week.

The current amendment passed by a narrow 15-14 vote. One senator was excused.

Without the amendment, the bill would have only allowed abortions to “preserve the woman from serious risk of death or of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of major bodily function.”

Those circumstances would not have included risk of psychological or emotional conditions. Now, if the bill is enacted in its present form, individuals who become pregnant because of incest or rape could get an abortion.

“Women aren’t property, they don’t belong to the state, you can’t make them do this,” Case said on the Senate floor. “Especially in these very egregious situations, the government can’t make women do this.”

But Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, maintained the position that, even under such circumstances, abortion is wrong.

“Taking a life because of the circumstance of conception is wrong, two wrongs don’t make a right,” she said.

Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, also said the amendment is “incredibly ambiguous” and “is such a loophole that it guts the bill.”

Rothfuss pushed back on this claim.

“The idea that the concern would be that this is too vague calls into question the vagueness of the bill which anticipates the possibility of a Supreme Court decision that is as yet unwritten,” Rothfuss said. “I don’t know that you could exceed that in terms of vagueness.”

He added that the definitions of incest and sexual assault are outlined in Wyoming statutes.

“It is clear and direct, it is intentionally not ambiguous,” he said.

Some legislators also questioned other aspects of the bill that seem ambiguous, particularly given that a new Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade might not be cut and dry.

Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, had concerns in particular regarding the bill’s enactment.

“It’s a little unusual how this would take effect,” she said, referencing the section of the bill that describes how it will be put in place.

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the bill says the attorney general would give the secretary of state certification of the decision. The secretary of state would then report this to the Legislature’s Management Council, the Joint Judiciary Committee and the Wyoming Board of Medicine and would immediately publish the effective date. That effective date would be five days after the secretary of state received certification.

“I don’t know why we would have a trigger for an effective date built into this statute,” she said. “If you follow Supreme Court decisions, they’re not always clear and cut-dry.”

A new Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade would likely have to go through a lower court before being enacted into law.

“Despite the fact that there might be a desire or a thought that a Supreme Court decision can do either one thing or another, I think it’s way more nuanced than that,” she said. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t wait until we see what the Supreme Court does, analyze that, talk about it as a Legislature, and then have a clear effective date.”

Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, also said he had concerns about the bill and the confusion it could cause for future legislatures.

Ellis said she was “really uncomfortable” with language in the bill implying that the attorney general would be given authority to impose the legislation.

“The attorney general is not a judge, the attorney general advises the governor,” she said. “So I don’t know why we as a Legislature would hand over a decision like this and empower the attorney general who advises the governor with such decision making authority.”

But Hutchings said that the language isn’t meant to give the attorney general this power.

“We’re not saying that the attorney general has a role in the decision, he’s just going to certify that decision like an intermediary and bring it to our state,” she said.

This story was posted on March 10, 2022