By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
The Wyoming House of Representatives majority allowed no compromises Tuesday to a proposed sweeping abortion ban.
Three House delegates as of Tuesday at noon had brought three amendments to the “Life Is A Human Right Act,” House Bill 152, after spending roughly two hours the day before debating whether the bill is constitutional.
All three amendments failed, and the act remained in its original form at midday Tuesday.
Separation Of Powers
Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, brought the first amendment which would have removed a portion of the bill giving legislators who cosponsored it the right to intervene in court cases against it.
Western said removing this provision would protect the separation of powers in Wyoming government.
“I certainly am not an attorney,” said Western. “But even I could tell you in the Constitution that delineation of powers, separation of powers is extremely important.”
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, spoke in support of Western’s amendment, saying the intervenor provision would create a bad precedent of sending legislators into court to defend every questionable law they pass.
Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, also backed the amendment. He said besides the separation of powers problem, allowing specific legislators to intervene violates state constitutional protections against the making of specific laws tailored to specific people.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, countered, saying that a major case has set a precedent for lawmakers to intervene in legal challenges to their laws. She said the intervenor right would ensure that the people most invested in a law could be sent to defend it.
The amendment failed following a standing vote.
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, brought a second amendment that would have converted HB 152 to a heartbeat bill, banning abortion after a heartbeat is heard.
The amendment also would have stricken findings in the bill that lawyers in the House have deemed unconstitutional and would have allowed for state Medicaid funds to be spent on abortions performed to save a woman from death or serious injury.
As HB 152 is written, it would forbid the use of any state money on all abortions. Current law allows state funds to be used for abortions in cases of rape, incest and serious health risks.
Brown worried aloud that stripping all state funding provisions would discriminate against women who use Medicaid.
To Shut Down Concerns
Multiple HB 152 co-sponsors rebuked Brown’s amendment as discounting the value of life from conception.
Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, said she was voting against the amendment because the bill’s chief intent is to declare that life begins at conception.
“If pro-life individuals are wrong, then a baby is born, sometimes under circumstances that are not ideal,” said Ward. “If the pro-choice side is wrong, a human being has been murdered.”
Brown clarified that he is pro-life and the amendment’s heartbeat provision doesn’t define his understanding of life, but could help the bill vault concerns brought against it.
A doctor had told lawmakers in an earlier committee hearing that the bill could ban in-vitro fertilization efforts in Wyoming, since IVF requires the discard of undesirable zygotes.
Later, however, Brown provoked the amendment’s demise himself by acknowledging that it was not written “the correct way.”
The amendment would have held that once an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detected, a woman “shall have no right to her health care decisions with respect to the pregnancy.”
The main loophole in this language, Brown acknowledged, is that it could have allowed abortions throughout pregnancy as long as no one had heard the baby’s heartbeat.
It should have provided that abortions could not be performed after a heartbeat could be detected, Brown added.
Detractors also didn’t like the reference to health care or the wording that may have stripped a woman’s rights to other prenatal care.
There were six votes in favor of Brown’s amendment and 56 against it.
Rep. Bill Henderson, R-Cheyenne, proposed a third amendment, which also failed.
His amendment would have defined health care in the act as “the provision of safe, effective, timely, equitable and integrated medical care to persons including a community.”
The amendment’s opponents called the definition confusing and wondered why it referenced communities and equitability with respect to abortion.
From the floor audio, it sounded as though there were no votes in favor of Henderson’s amendment.
A Little Background
The Life Is A Human Right Act passed its first and most rigorous House vote Monday after that debate, with some lawmakers saying they would vote in favor of it in the hopes of improving its many points of concern.
If it passes the Legislature as currently written, HB 152 would ban all abortions from conception forward, except in cases involving a risk of death or extreme injury to the mother. It would repeal exemptions for rape and incest currently embedded in Wyoming’s trigger ban – an abortion ban that went into effect in 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade.
The trigger ban now is blocked from enforcement while Wyoming’s judicial system considers whether a state constitutional right to individual healthcare autonomy would make abortion bans unconstitutional.