By Jasmine Hall
Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Pro-life advocates appeal to state Supreme Court in abortion battle


August 3, 2023

CHEYENNE - Pro-life advocates who were denied intervention in the state's ongoing abortion court battle have appealed the decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Teton County District Court was notified by applicants Right to Life of Wyoming, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, and House Majority Floor Leader Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, on Friday.They argue they have a stake in the Johnson v. Wyoming case, in which plaintiffs are challenging two abortion bans passed during the most recent legislative session.

"The state of Wyoming is eager to uphold its law affirming that life is a human right and ensure women are given the real health care and support they deserve," Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Tim Garrison said in a prepared statement. "Our clients have a clear interest in defending that law, which safeguards the lives of unborn children and the well-being of their mothers."We will urge the Wyoming Supreme Court to allow them to help defend Wyoming's duly enacted law."

All three were denied their motion to intervene in support of the state by Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens after a hearing in June. Secretary of State Chuck Gray also was denied intervention on all grounds, but has not filed a notice of appeal to the high court.

Owens wrote in her 12-page order denying the motion for all four applicants that there were conditions they had to meet for intervention, including claiming an interest "related to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action."

The intervenors must also be at risk of losing their ability to protect that interest due to the action, show that their interest is not adequately represented by the existing parties in the lawsuit and their application must be timely.

"Collectively, all of the applicants assert an interest in this action based on their long history of extensive advocacy work in promoting and supporting pro-life policies, organizations and legislation," according to her order. "Individually, the Wyoming Secretary of State also asserts an interest based on his statutory obligation to preserve all acts and resolutions of the Legislature pursuant to Wyo. Stat. 9-1-302, as well as his position as first in line of succession to the governorship. Representative Rodriguez-Williams and Representative Neiman also assert an interest based on the integral roles they played as the main sponsor and cosponsor of the act.

"Finally, the representatives also assert an interest based on preserving the authority of the Legislature to pass laws that promote the policies they were elected by their constituents to pursue."

In the end, Right to Life of Wyoming, Rodriguez-Williams and Neiman were not seen as meeting all the conditions by Owens. This was the same conclusion the Jackson judge came to when she denied the same applicants the ability to intervene in the first abortion case heard in 2022.

Many reasons were outlined in their order, but she stated that their advocacy efforts did not create a legally protectable interest to qualify for intervention. Even if she could find they "asserted a direct and substantial and legally protectable interest," it would be adequately represented by state defendants.

The Wyoming Supreme Court will have to make its own decision on the application, but has remained uninvolved in the abortion debate up till now. Justices declined to hear the first case in December, after it was referred by Owens in November.

"After a careful review of the certification order, this court finds it should decline to answer the certified questions," the notice of declination stated. "The Court does not believe it can answer all 12 certified questions on the limited factual record provided."

Abortion remains legal in Wyoming, despite three bills being passed by the Wyoming Legislature to ban it in 2022.

Following this year's legislative session, plaintiffs Danielle Johnson, Kathleen Dow, Dr. Giovanni Anthony, Dr. Rene Hinkle, Chelsea's Fund and Circle of Hope Health Care Services sued seeking a declaration from the court that the "Life is a Human Right Act" violates the Wyoming Constitution, as does a ban on chemical abortion.

Judge Owens has been responsible for granting each temporary restraining order filed by the plaintiffs challenging the abortion bans.

This story was published on August 9, 2023.


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