Five state legislators who spoke to Cowboy State Daily about a clinic that offers abortion services opening in Casper on Thursday afternoon carry different opinions about the opening of the facility, ranging from extreme anger to excitement.
For the past two years, the State Legislature has passed laws prohibiting most abortions in Wyoming.
Court challenges to Wyoming’s new abortion laws have paused the abortion bans, giving the business a green light to offer abortion as part of its full spectrum of women’s health services. The clinic, Wellspring Health Access, will be the first clinic offering abortion services to open in a state that has laws prohibiting abortion on the books. State anti-abortion laws were triggered when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
Wellspring will also offer transgender-related treatments, medication abortion services, family planning, and gynecological services. The opening of the facility was delayed by about 11 months after an arsonist lit fire to the building in May 2022.
“It’s exciting to have more providers to provide reproductive health care,” said state Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson.
‘Boils My Backside’
House Majority Floor Leader Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, said the opening “boils my backside” and “breaks my heart.”
“It’s a sad day for little human beings that don’t have the ability to say no,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
Neiman was one of the most vocal supporters of bills during the 2022 and 2023 legislative sessions that outlawed most forms of abortion in Wyoming. He believes that a pre-born fetus constitutes human life, and that there is no difference between abortion and euthanizing an elderly adult.
During the last legislative session, legislators considered a bill that would prohibit
“They were so concerned about harming their (sage grouse) ability to prepare and survive,” Neiman said. “In Wyoming, you’re more apt to get thrown in jail for disturbing sage grouse eggs than you are for killing a human.”
He worries that abortion is becoming a new form of birth control and that the new clinic will discourage people from using safe sex practices.
Neiman believes a significant amount of exemptions were placed on the laws banning abortion in the state. Both have been challenged and paused in court, with the most recent version under a temporary restraining order. The first ban is currently under a permanent injunction, a more long-term and indefinite pause.
Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, blamed Gov. Mark Gordon for the opening of the Casper facility. He appointed the judge, Melissa Owens of the Ninth Judicial District Court. She blocked the abortion bans from being enacted.
“I think it's reprehensible that because a not-so pro-life Governor appointed a radical leftist judge in Jackson (who gave the middle finger to the legislature by ignoring the rule of law and legal precedent, including the Supreme Court) babies will die,” she wrote to Cowboy State Daily in Thursday afternoon email. “The left loves a culture of death.”
Neiman, Secretary of State Chuck Gray, state Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams of Cody and the Wyoming Right to Life group, all asked to join the lawsuit by filing an amicus brief in March.
If the second abortion ban is overruled again in court, Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, wouldn’t rule out passing a third law in 2024 to try and address the issue.
“I believe the courts need to do the right thing and uphold the life bill that passed,” Bear said. “We’re losing good women and men.”
Neiman said it might not be resolved until a referendum on the question of abortion is brought before the voters.
The opening of the new facility may take pressure off the Women's Health & Family Care Clinic in Jackson, which was previously the only facility offering abortion services in Wyoming. In 2021, there were 98 abortions performed in Wyoming, up from 91 in 2020, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
Brent Blue, a Idaho doctor who until recently performed medication abortions in Wyoming, said he doesn’t expect the Casper facility to take much pressure off the Jackson clinic. He said the vast majority of women receiving abortions in Jackson come from Western Wyoming and Idaho, while women seeking abortions in Central Wyoming or farther east typically go to Fort Collins in Northern Colorado or Billings in Southern Montana.
“It’s about time for one thing,” Blue said of the opening. “For women in the center of the state it was hugely needed.”
Yin and fellow Democratic Jackson legislator Sen. Mike Gierau said they are pleased about the facility opening.
“They’re trying to help women with reproductive health care needs,” Yin said. “It’s just keeping people healthy.”
Gierau took a slightly more moderate view. He said although he hopes to see a day where no abortions are performed in the future, he believes the service should be available. He said a woman has the same right to receive these services as a man would for receiving ear, nose and throat care.
“My hope is they never get a customer because the need for that service is not necessary in Casper, but if it is needed, they are there,” Gierau said. “While I wish it (abortion) to never be done, the service should be legal in our communities.
He also pointed out that the facility offers other services other than abortion, such as OB-GYN care.
“They are performing other services women need,” Gierau said. “They are providing important women’s health services in their community.”
Another facility offering OB-GYN services is scheduled to close on June 1, according to the Jackson Hole News and Guide.
Neiman believes the act of opening a facility that offers abortion in a state that has recently passed laws prohibiting it is a strong statement in itself.
“We’re going to build an abortion clinic right under their nose,” he said of the Wellspring efforts. “In Wyoming, they’re setting up a standard for abortion and if you can knock the Cowboy State off, you can do it anywhere else. Take that conservatives.”