Pro-life Legislators, Group Ask To Defend Wyoming Trigger Ban, Say AG Hasn’t Done Enough

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

Saying the state isn’t representing the pro-life argument fully in a lawsuit against its abortion ban, two state representatives and one anti-abortion organization have asked to join the lawsuit challenging the ban’s legality.     

State Representatives Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, and Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody – along with Wyoming Right to Life – on Tuesday asked a Wyoming judge to let them intervene in the lawsuit so they may help defend the state’s law.   

Wyoming had a trigger ban, or law outlawing nearly all abortions, go into effect in late July for a few hours before Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens paused it. Owens issued a preliminary injunction against the law on Aug. 10, so she could consider abortion advocates’ case against it.  

The case is expected to be appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court regardless of Owens’ final decision on whether it fits the state’s Constitution.    

Owens said in her preliminary injunction order that she may interpret a Wyoming Constitution reference to “healthcare” to include abortion. The same section promises individuals the right to make their own healthcare decisions.     

Rodriguez-Williams was the main sponsor on Wyoming’s embattled abortion ban. Neiman was a co-sponsor.    

To join the case as intervenors, the group must prove that they have an interest in it, that their interests aren’t already being represented in full, and that they have an argument that won’t be heard without them, according to the group’s Tuesday filing in Teton County District Court.    

Fetal Life   

It is the responsibility of the Wyoming Attorney General to defend Wyoming’s abortion ban.   

The AG’s special assistant Jay Jerde has argued on the state’s behalf in Owens’ court, but his argument primarily has been that the state Constitution does not grant a right to abortion access.  

Jerde has not argued for a right to fetal life.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys challenging the law, Marci Bramlet, told Owens in court that Jerde doesn’t argue for fetal life because it would be illogical; since Wyoming’s abortion ban has exceptions for cases of rape and incest. Those exceptions were added in a Senate amendment after the ban had cleared the state House.

“Is the (state’s) interest so compelling that it only extends to children conceived under certain circumstances and the rest are – what? – not worthy of such protection?” Bramlet asked in an Aug. 9 hearing after which Owens decided to pause the law’s implementation.    

The pro-life group’s Tuesday filing expresses concern over the state arguing on “strictly legal” grounds rather than for women’s and fetal wellbeing.    

They started the intervention request process “once they became aware of the lawsuit and realized that their interest would not be fully and adequately represented by any existing parties,” the filing says.    

“The record is also bereft of any evidence to show the harms to women and unborn children posed by abortion itself,” the filing states.    

Doctors And Laws   

Owens’ main concern before pausing the law and taking up the case against it was that doctors would be wrongly prosecuted after making snap decisions to perform an abortion to save a mother’s life.    

Although the law would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison, it contains exceptions for cases involving a risk of death or severe health issues.    

Owens said these exceptions did not properly provide for doctors’ judgment in those situations.    

The pro-life group’s intervention request counters that finding, saying that the law can’t be called “vague” because an understanding of doctors’ right to make medical judgments is so ingrained in Wyoming legal interpretation, it is “contained and defined in Wyoming’s Civil Pattern Jury Instructions.”    

The intervention request was filed Tuesday by Denise M. Harle, attorney and director of the Center for Life in the nonprofit group Alliance Defending Freedom, and by Cheyenne-based attorney Frederick J. Harrison.    

“The state of Wyoming is eager to protect life and uphold its law that seeks to preserve the lives of children and support mothers,” Harle said in a prepared statement. “Women deserve real health care, unborn babies deserve a chance to live, and states like Wyoming deserve the long-awaited opportunity to affirm that life is a human right.”

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