If the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, Wyoming legislators will have to take hard stands on the issue of abortion, according to a leader in the state Senate.
In a U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion draft that was leaked on Monday to Politico, Justice Samuel Alito, said to have authored the opinion, advocated strongly to overturn the landmark 1973 abortion case.
Roe v. Wade made abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy legal in every state. It remains the law of the land since the Supreme Court has not issued its final ruling on the case that spawned the court’s review.
“This is going to really open a new discussion if the repeal goes forward as the leaked draft suggests,” said Senate Minority Floor Leader Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie. “All of the prior debate has been speculative and politically safe for proponents of turning back abortion. It was always just politics to them, because nothing could really be done (to overturn Roe v. Wade).”
If the ruling becomes official, the state’s authority over abortions would be magnified, Rothfuss said, while the authority of the federal government would be diminished.
As a result, some legislators who have publicly supported outlawing abortion will have to determine whether such legislation, which would carry more weight than in the past, is something they really want, he said.
‘Embittered Our Political Culture’
Alito wrote in his draft opinion that creating one national law for abortion has not unified the nation, but has “embittered our political culture for a half-century.”
“Roe abruptly ended that political process” of states’ sovereignty over reproductive laws, wrote Alito.
“It imposed the same highly restrictive regime on the entire nation, and it effectively struck down the abortion laws of every single state,” he added.
Alito called the Roe ruling an “exercise of raw judicial power” sparking a “national controversy.”
“We hold that Roe and (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a related 1992 case) must be overruled,” he wrote. “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”
Defenders of the Casey precedent rely, he wrote, on the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids states from stripping U.S. citizens of the right to life, liberty and property without due process.
Alito averred that abortion access is not implied in those rights.
The Wyoming Legislature this year passed a trigger ban – a law that would ban abortion in Wyoming five days after any Supreme Court repeal of Roe V. Wade.
Abortion still would be legal in cases of serious risk of death for the mother, rape, and incest.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, while pleased with the content of the ruling, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday she was concerned for the integrity and privacy of the high court’s deliberations process in the face of the first-ever leak of a draft opinion.
“The leak is unfortunate,” said Rodriguez-Williams. “There definitely needs to be an investigation, because a breach of the court’s confidentiality is almost an assault, and I’m skeptical as to why somebody chose to do that. It’s very unfortunate.”
Rodriguez-Williams said the Supreme Court’s best reaction, in her opinion, would be to prioritize the case contemplating Roe v. Wade to quickly finalize the ruling and provide less time for outside interference to foment.
Still, she added, the draft opinion looks hopeful for the trigger ban’s impact.
“Wyoming is in a wonderful position, having passed (the law) during this last session,” she said. “We’re prepared and in a position where, because of the bill, we’d be able to ban abortion given… the reversal of Roe V. Wade.”
“It solves the problem of abortion in Wyoming,” she added.
Wyoming’s neighboring states of Idaho, Utah, and North Dakota also have trigger bans in place, as do Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee.
Rothfuss said he believes that due to polarization and peer pressure within the Republican party, some Republican legislators who voted for the trigger ban may not have really wanted to see it implemented, but voted for it because they thought it wouldn’t go anywhere.
“There are many Wyoming Republicans,” said Rothfuss, “that understand the politics of the abortion debate and understand that if they support a woman’s right to choose, that they will be vilified by this absurd, extremist statewide GOP party that doesn’t represent the interests of any rational Wyomingite. And so they believe their vote to be politically expedient – and inconsequential.”
Rodriguez-Williams told Cowboy State Daily that it’s possible some who supported her bill were merely being “politically expedient.”
But she countered that the majority of Wyoming citizens, in her experience, hold pro-life values.
She added those values will become a factor in the upcoming elections, since state legislators now have power over the abortion issue.
Rodriguez-Williams took an opposite view of the Fourteenth Amendment from abortion-rights advocates, arguing instead that the right to life and liberty should be safeguarded for the unborn.
“(Roe V. Wade) denies the right of a child to be born,” she said. “It denies a child to the pursuit of life and liberty… everything that they’re entitled to.”
Rape and Incest
Rodriguez-Williams said abortion clinics are a “rapist’s best friend,” and she objected to the rape and incest exemptions to her bill because she believes rapists can hide the evidence of their crimes by securing abortions for their victims.
“More violence does not bring healing to a victim,” she continued, adding “Abortion is a violent procedure.”
New Bills Brewing
Both Rothfuss and Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, said they expected to see new abortion bills in the 2023 legislative session, especially bills attempting to remove the legal exemptions of death risk, rape, and incest for performing abortions.
Yin said he hopes to bring a bill of his own reversing the trigger ban.
“In my opinion this (repeal) would end up increasing our suicide rate, which is already too high, and leading to people getting illegal abortions,” said Yin. “Because they can’t (potentially) get a legal one within their communities.”
Yin said the pro-life movement strikes him as contrary to Wyoming’s prevalent libertarian leanings.
“Frankly I’ve always considered Wyoming a live-and-let-live state, and this is one (issue) where Wyoming has chosen to have the state tell someone what they can and cannot do with their body.”
Yin, like Rothfuss, feared that anti-abortion laws in Wyoming are a product of pressures within the Republican party rather than sincere beliefs throughout the party.