Gordon Noncommittal On Signing Abortion, Transgender Sports Bills

At a press conference on Tuesday morning, Gov. Mark Gordon wouldnt say whether he will sign two abortion bills and a transgender sports ban bill into law.

LW
Leo Wolfson

March 07, 20238 min read

Gov Mark Gordon signs bills 3 7 23

Gov. Mark Gordon says he still needs to study bills that would ban most forms of abortion, the prescription of drugs used for abortions and legislation that would prevent transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports before signing them, allowing them to pass into law unsigned or he vetoes them.

“Obviously, those bills are important,” Gordon said during a Tuesday press conference in Cheyenne. “They were hard-fought and came through the Legislature, and I’m going to give it every degree of consideration.”

These three pieces of legislation made up some of the biggest political wins for staunch conservative lawmakers during the 2023 legislative session.

 “It’s disappointing that the governor is not as enthusiastic about protecting life as the majority of the Wyoming Legislature is,” state Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told Cowboy State Daily about the governor not having already signed them. “Time has not run out for him to sign these bills though, and the pro-life community remains hopeful that Governor Gordon will stay true to his pro-life campaign promises.”

House Bill 152, titled the Life is a Human Right Act, bans most forms of abortion in Wyoming except in cases of rape, incest or severe risks of health or death. It also allows for abortions to treat cancers or diseases that may be fatal or harmful to an unborn baby. 

Senate File 109, Prohibiting Chemical Abortions, bans the prescription of chemical abortion drugs. Still allowed is the use of these drugs for other medical purposes, like inducing labor and treating postnatal hemorrhages. 

Senate File 133, “Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Sports,” prohibits biological males from participating in girls sports teams in grades seven through 12. 

Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, sponsored House Bill 152 and said she’s “proud of the legislative branch’s pro-life stance.” (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Why Delay?

Gordon said he still needs to deliberate the constitutionality of the bills before passing them into law. Specifically, he said he is considering the relationship between them, likely a reference to HB 152 and SF 109, the two abortion bills.

“Each bill has unique characteristics, (I) want to understand how they interplay with one another, how they interplay with existing law, whether there are unforeseen consequences that could be problematic,” he said.

The constitutionality of HB 152 was one of the major points of discussion during the legislative session rather than the morality of abortion. Although most of the bill’s supporters expressed that they believe constitutionality issues were resolved, some like state Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, argued that any bill that infringes on a woman’s ability to get an abortion is unconstitutional. 

The Senate removed provisions from HB 152 that many House delegates believed would violate separations of powers principles, such as a clause letting individual legislators defend the law in court as intervenors.  

But the bill still asserts that abortion is not considered health care under the Wyoming Constitution’s health care autonomy guarantee. State courts have not yet determined whether abortion is health care, and multiple lawmakers expressed concern that HB 152 is a legislative attempt at interpreting the Constitution, which is a judicial duty.

“I am proud of the legislative branch’s pro-life stance,” said Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, the sponsor of HB 152. “Every life is precious, and I am proud of Wyoming’s tenacity and determination in protecting unborn children, supporting women, and upholding the dignity of the medical profession by enacting the ‘Life is a Human Right Act’ bill.”

Gordon did sign another anti-abortion bill into law last year that has a similar reach in abortion prohibitions.

Sara Burlingame, executive director for Wyoming Equality, lobbied against a transgender sports bill that Gov. Mark Gordon has been noncommittal on whether he’ll sign. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Other Impacts

Other opponents of the bill have expressed concern that maternal and women’s health doctors will choose not to practice in Wyoming because of the state’s restrictive potential new laws. Wyoming’s health care industry is already exacerbated by low staffing. Representatives from Wyoming’s health care industry by and large opposed the two abortion bills.

Gordon finds it essential for Wyoming to be able to provide postpartum care to young mothers and support for health care workers in Wyoming but wouldn’t commit to extending this privilege when it comes to abortion. 

He also said he doesn’t understand why Wyoming hasn’t passed legislation to protect health care workers. House Bill 149, which would have established a specific offense for violence committed against health care workers, was defeated in the House by a 34-28 vote.

The governor has until March 18 to take action on the bills before they automatically pass into law without his signature. Since all three were sent to Gordon’s desk on the last day of the session, he has 15 days to sign them into law. If the bills had come to him before the last three days of the session, he would’ve had to act on them within three days or they would have passed into law.

Gordon said he is glad the bills came to him late in the session and said he is taking “the full expanse of time” to make sure each piece of legislation is “thoroughly reviewed.”

“I don’t like to make those decisions until I have a full chance to review,” he said.

Michael Pearlman, a spokesperson for the governor, said Gordon won’t likely sign any more bills until next week.

Sara Burlingame, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality, referenced a quote from 18th century poet Alexander Pope when asked if she still has hope Gordon will veto these bills.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blest. The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home, rests and expatiates in a life to come,” she said.

Legal Challenges?

Burlingame said her organization is in conversation with a few Wyoming transgender families about the possibility of representing them in a lawsuit if the transgender sports bill becomes law. 

“It’s a hard conversation, because you’re asking if their family would be willing to be plunged into public scrutiny, if their child’s adolescence should be permanently altered by being thrust into a legal debate about their humanity,” she said. 

On SF 133, a $1 million appropriation was stripped from the bill that would have helped the state fight potential lawsuits challenging it.

Gordon said the ramifications of treating transgender youth differently than other children and following in lockstep with other states that have passed similar legislation are issues he considers “important” and “should be considered” when deciding whether to allow the legislation to pass into law. 

He said he is awaiting a brief mandate from Attorney General Bridget Hill on its constitutionality.

As an example, the anti-abortion “trigger law” passed last year was challenged in court shortly after the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Many have said they expect HB 152 to be challenged as well.

Other Legislation

Gordon also mentioned he was pleased that House Bill 4, Medicaid 12-Month Postpartum Coverage, passed, which he signed into law Friday. 

This legislation extends postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year in Wyoming. The bill will impact about a third of the state’s new mothers. 

Gordon said the Legislature missed an opportunity when it came to establishing sustainable funding to address Wyoming’s suicide problems. A bill to establish a trust fund for Wyoming’s two suicide call centers was set up with no funding attached.

“We are the worst state in the nation for suicide,” he said. “Not to recognize that as not only an important issue, but a pro-life issue and we need to get ahead of it was a big disappointment.”

He also is frustrated with the failure of legislation that would have authorized the governor to negotiate and enter into agreements with tribes concerning hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering rights claims.

“It failed largely because of misinformation,” he said. “Never was anybody expecting to see tribal nations, such as sovereign nations, kowtow to Wyoming. It was about two nations … working on an agreement commonly as citizens of the state of Wyoming to understand what the dimensions of hunting could be.”

But he was happy that another tribal bill passed in House Bill 19, which establishes a State Indian Child Welfare Act task force.

The governor also said he supports legislation providing property tax relief to Wyoming residents and a bill creating a Wyoming charter school authorizing board.

“Overall, I think it was a very good session and I was very happy to work with colleagues,” Gordon said. “There was some get-and-go as there always is, but that’s appropriate for a state that actually respects the three branches of government as we do.”

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter