Wyoming Abortions Still Allowed as Judge Temporarily Blocks Near-Total Ban

A plaintiff behind the lawsuit to block the law banning abortions called the judge’s decision a “temporary victory”

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jul 28, 2022

Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens temporarily blocks Wyoming's near-total abortion ban from going into effect as scheduled on Wednesday, agreeing with plaintiffs in a lawsuit that the ban could cause "irreparable injury" to those seeking to perform and receive abortions. (Courtesy photo from the Wyoming State Bar)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

On the day it was set to go into effect, Wyoming’s near-total abortion ban was temporarily blocked by a state judge siding with a coalition of abortion providers and state residents, who argued in a lawsuit filed Monday that the ban violates Wyoming’s constitution.

On Wednesday, the day abortion procedures were officially barred in the state, Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens temporarily blocked House Bill 92 — which makes performing abortions in Wyoming a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison except in rare cases of rape, incest or health risks — from going into effect for at least 14 days. Republican Gov. Mark Gordon appointed Owens to be a district court judge in December, filling a vacancy.

“Today’s ruling, while only a temporary victory, ensures that abortion care remains legal in Wyoming for the time being,” Julie Burkhart, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement. Burkhart is the founder of Wellspring Health Access, a nonprofit in the process of opening a clinic in Casper that would provide surgical abortions, family planning services and gender-affirming care.

“We will continue our efforts to ensure that Wyoming residents maintain their fundamental, constitutionally protected right to make their own health care decisions,” Burkhart said.

Gov. Gordon said in a statement to the Wyoming Truth that the judge’s order was “not unexpected,” but noted that “because of it I cannot comment on ongoing litigation.”

Gov. Gordon added, “The Attorney General is poised to defend the state’s position.”. Representatives for Attorney General Bridget Hill did not respond to a request for comment.

In their lawsuit, those seeking to overturn Wyoming’s abortion ban argued that it violated a provision in the state constitution that guarantees individuals the right to determine their own health care decisions, and also that the ban could hurt those seeking an abortion under an allowed exception, such as cases of assault or if the pregnancy posed serious health risks.

Owens appeared sympathetic to arguments that the ban would leave patients with pregnancy complications and doctors seeking to treat them at risk of prosecution should abortions be performed to protect the patients’ health.

“That is a possible irreparable injury to the plaintiffs. They are left with no guidance,” Owens said, according to the Associated Press.

The plaintiffs in the case must now convince the judge that the temporary restraining order blocking the law from going into effect should be extended beyond Aug. 10, when it’s set to expire. Another hearing is scheduled on Aug. 9 regarding a temporary injunction, which could extend beyond the 14-day period.

However the judge rules, legal experts expect the case to make its way up to the state high court, the ultimate arbiter of matters pertaining to the state constitution.

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