House Judiciary Narrowly Passes Pro-Life Bill Wednesday Over Objections Of Pro-Life Legislator

Pro-life legislator Rep. Barry Crago said the Life Is a Human Right Act could cost unborn lives while constitutional issues keep it stuck in the courts.

CM
Clair McFarland

February 01, 20235 min read

Crago 2 1 23 scaled

When the “Life Is A Human Right Act” barely cleared its first legislative committee hearing Wednesday, its most vocal opponent was a pro-life lawmaker who said the act would sacrifice unborn lives to judicial challenges and delays.     

The act, House Bill 152, would ban all abortions in Wyoming except in cases of death or severe injury risks. It’s a tighter approach than last year’s “trigger ban,” which contained exemptions for rape and incest, but is currently blocked by a state district court.   

The trigger ban was a Wyoming abortion ban that passed into law within days of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 overturn of landmark abortion-rights case Roe vs. Wade. Pro-choice plaintiffs challenged the law by suing Wyoming within hours of its enactment.  

The ban may not be able to overcome Wyoming Constitution phrasing giving Wyomingites the right to make their own health care decisions. When she ordered a temporary block on the law during the case against it, Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens said the court is likely to conclude that abortion is a form of health care.     

House Bill 152 attempts to correct the issues Owens voiced when she blocked the trigger ban, by carving out exceptions for doctors acting in crisis situations according to their “reasonable medical judgment.”    

The bill also would give legislators the right to intervene in court cases against the law. It references religious freedom rights, states that the Legislature may interpret the constitutionality of its own laws and addresses numerous tenets of the Constitution that plaintiffs have evoked in their current lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s trigger ban.     

Pro-Lifer Blasts Bill   

These provisions are unconstitutional, according to state Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, who is also a Johnson County civil attorney.    

Crago was outspoken about being pro-life. He also voiced deep concerns with the bill’s provisions.    

“A yes vote on this is going to cost way more lives than a no vote,” he said.   

Crago said passing HB 152 would void the lawsuit against the trigger ban but instantly spark a new lawsuit, dragging the court’s decision out another year or two years.   

If Wyoming loses in court, Crago continued, the whole abortion law could be voided.    

“I want an abortion ban to remain in place. I think this takes us further away from that,” said Crago.   

He said the portions of the bill evoking religious liberty are particularly problematic.    

“Religious liberty cannot be tied to a particular bill,” he said. “If you don’t think that’s going to get us in trouble in judicial review, I don’t know how to help that, because that’s what’s going to happen.”    

Something We Want   

Democratic delegate Rep. Karlee Provenza, of Laramie, echoed Crago’s points from a different perspective.    

She said she was tempted to vote in favor of the bill despite being pro-choice because she believes the judicial system will find serious fault with it and strike it down, leaving neither it nor alternate abortion bans in place. Ultimately, however, Provenza voted against the bill, saying it’s contrary to her purpose as a legislator.    

“People elected me to do good work and that means not passing legislation that’s unconstitutional – even if maybe it gets a back door to something that we want,” she said.     

Health Care Or Murder?   

The committee’s other Democrat, Rep. Ken Chestek of Laramie, also voted against the bill.    

Chestek, a law professor, was vehement in the belief that both the trigger ban and HB 152 are unconstitutional under the constitutional promise of healthcare autonomy.    

He said abortion is healthcare, and he believes the court will come to the same conclusion.    

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, sparred with Chestek, saying it didn’t seem right that Chestek could legislate as though abortion is healthcare but he, Haroldson, would be forbidden from legislating as though abortion is murder.    

“We need to be careful here because we’re sitting here saying, you know, that abortion is health care, and we can define that, but we can’t define what life is?” said Haroldson. “We have to start asking some questions I think.”    

Haroldson believes HB 152 is unconventional, but not unconstitutional, he said.     

Tie Breaker   

Committee Chairman Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, said he could tell he was going to be the tiebreaking vote within his split committee. He said he, too, is worried about the bill’s ability to succeed in court.    

“I do have significant worries that at some point in the future we may look back and say ‘I wish we hadn’t done that,’” said Washut. “But I’ll be an aye vote today.”    

The committee advanced the bill on a 5-4 vote; it now is being contemplated in the state House of Representatives as a whole. 

Washut and Haroldson voted in favor of the bill along with its sponsor Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, and Republican Reps. Mark Jennings of Sheridan and Tony Niemiec of Green River.    

Votes against the bill included Crago, Provenza, Chestek, and Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton.    

Oakley said she recognized she’d be criticized for voting against a pro-life bill, but was concerned that the bill could violate the separation of powers doctrine and is vaguely defined in certain areas.    

She referenced as one example a Monday testimony in which a doctor said that the bill’s prohibition on abortion from the point of “fertilization” could make in-vitro fertilization, IVF, illegal in Wyoming. 

Share this article

Authors

CM

Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter