The ability to get an abortion in Wyoming, and around the United States, has navigated uncertain currents since the U.S. Supreme Court announced its reversal of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision last June.
Since then, elected officials in Wyoming have worked at the state Capitol and in district court to ban abortion in the state.
Dr. Giovannina Anthony is an OB-GYN at the Women’s Health Center and Family Care Clinic in Jackson, which, at the time of the Roe v. Wade overturn was the only place in the state that performed abortions. The state’s second abortion facility opened in Casper last month.
Anthony said June 24, 2022, the day of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, is burned into her mind as “the day we all lost our reproductive rights.”
There is no sign for Women’s Health and Family Care on the outside of the building it operates from at St. John’s Health Pharmacy, and no information on its website directly referencing abortion services. To reach Anthony’s office, one must go to the basement of the building, travel through a locked door and down a long series of hallways.
Lawsuits And Laws Cancel Appointments
A ban on most abortions in Wyoming was in effect for five days in March, causing Anthony’s clinic to cancel six appointments.
Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens then blocked the law from enforcement after a pro-choice coalition Anthony was a part of sued the state, claiming it unconstitutional.
Next came a federal court judge’s ruling in April that the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the chemical abortion pill mifepristone would be put on pause. One week later, the Supreme Court blocked the ruling while litigation continues on the case.
All of the abortions performed at Women’s Health and Family Care are done chemically, Anthony said. The seesaw battle of this federal case also threw a wrench into the facility’s scheduling when, for a short period of time, Anthony doubted the clinic could legally perform abortions.
“I’m continually just trying to navigate state laws and the patients and other providers and other clinics,” Anthony said. “It has been a roller coaster in the last year. One minute it’s legal, one minute it’s not.”
Anthony said this constant flux has led patients to confusion and hysteria.
“The patients get completely freaked out and hysterical and sort of traumatized by, ‘Can I do it or can’t I?’” she said.
Legal Red Tape
On her end, Anthony said she’s found herself in numerous conversations with her attorney, a situation she says is unsettling.
“It wasn’t just a question of can we give the medicine? Then it was, does it have the correct labeling?” she said. “If the labeling is incorrect, are we administering the medicine illegally? What can I say to patients that’s legal?”
The federal chemical abortion case goes back before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on May 17 when oral arguments are scheduled.
Wyoming became the first state to ban the chemical abortion pill in March, and it’s set to go into effect July 1, but a hold on the law was court-ordered as part of the ongoing dispute on the abortion ban.
All of these events came on the heels of a trigger ban passed in the Wyoming Legislature in 2022. The law was put on hold before it went into effect, also by Judge Owens.
Anthony said delays and doubts about the status of abortion prevents doctors from entering the field and working in Wyoming and discourages people from getting abortion services, even if they’re still legal.
“When you have delay and doubt, and lawyers involved, it just leads to bad outcomes, plain and simple,” she said. “We’re seeing that already all over the country.”
More Idaho Patients
Idaho has one of the most restrictive bans on abortion in the United States, prohibiting the procedure in all stages of pregnancy and criminalizing residents who assist a mother in receiving an abortion from out of the state.
Anthony said she has seen an uptick in patients from eastern Idaho since that state’s abortion ban went into effect in 2022, with some traveling hours to Jackson for services.
But Anthony said there hasn’t been an overall increase in patients visiting her facility, leading her to believe that sales of online abortion pills are increasing.
She believes the use of chemical abortion pills like mifepristone will become the predominant form of abortion in America in the future, a procedure she never sees going away.
Anthony said there is no “average” abortion patient, as her clientele ranges from 14 years old to 45. Most already have children, she said, and many are poor. Some are in abusive relationships and others are newly divorced. Others experienced contraception failure.
“It’s human nature and it’s life,” she said.
Anthony said she’s bothered by people who say they are pro-life, then make excuses for having an abortion. She said this decision should always be individually based.
“They perceive their problems are bigger,” she said.
When Does Life Begin?
Many pro-life supporters say an abortion is murder and that human life begins at the point of conception. Anthony said when life begins is an opinion-based judgment, and to her isn’t a question that determines the efficacy of abortion.
What matters to Anthony is the livelihood and needs of the mother, and the life she will be able to provide a child, to which she sees as an interconnected unit while it’s in the womb.
“In my view, the needs of the mother always outweigh the needs of that fetus,” she said, “because her needs in the end will determine the well-being of herself, her family, her community.”
Anthony is particularly frustrated with Gov. Mark Gordon for his choice to allow two bills restricting abortion in Wyoming to pass into law, and those in the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, a group of staunchly conservative legislators who oppose abortion.
House Bill 152, a bill banning most forms of abortion in Wyoming that states life begins at conception, passed into law this year without the governor’s signature.
In his decision letter on the bill, Gordon mentioned he has “a strong record of protecting the lives of the unborn, as well as their mothers,” the last part written in italics to express particular emphasis.
This claim especially is upsetting Anthony said, who believes it’s a lie. She said the qualifications of health care providers who testified against HB 152 prove it.
“We’re the ones who provide that care. Why would we do something or push for laws that harm our patients?” she questioned. “The fact that the way the anti-abortion factions, including the governor, are trying to take that away from us is just infuriating.”
Anthony moved to Wyoming from Southern California 18 years ago, where she also performed OB-GYN care.
In some ways, she followed in the footsteps of Brent Blue, another well-known Jackson doctor who until recently performed both surgical and medical abortions.
Anthony said she never expected to be one of the leading faces of the state’s pro-choice movement, but has embraced the role, finding it a natural transition. She said there are times when a cause needs a face attached to it.
“It was a position I never expected to be in this part of my career, this time, in this day and age in the 21st century,” Anthony said. “But weirdly, I feel like Wyoming is maybe a good place for me in this regard, because maybe I can really make a difference.”
She doesn’t believe Wyoming residents overall have changed their opinions on abortion during that time, but that real change has happened in the makeup of the state Legislature. There were some bills attempting to put minor restrictions on abortion in the Legislature when she first came to the state, but Anthony said those laws “pale in comparison” to the sweeping bans passed in 2022 and 2023.
Anthony believes the question of abortion in Wyoming probably won’t be answered until a proposal for a Constitutional amendment is brought to voters, a move Gordon has expressed some support for.
“I don’t really think most Wyoming citizens, men and women, believe the state should interfere with the right to choose,” she said.
Until that time comes, Alexander said she plans to continue fighting abortions bans.
Fight Far From Over
A memorable photo was taken of Anthony shortly after Owens announced she was putting a temporary hold on the most recent abortion ban. In the photo, Anthony is embracing her attorney, an emotional moment she finds holds a deeper significance.
“My patients are the mothers, and I think the real tragedy is in taking away the rights of these mothers to bodily autonomy and reproductive rights,” she said. “Those photos show we have a major emotional component.”
Toward the end of her interview with Cowboy State Daily, an alert popped up on Anthony’s phone that caught her attention. The North Carolina Legislature had just passed a 12-week abortion ban.
Anthony expects legal wrangling on abortion and laws aiming to curb or protect the procedure to last for the next generation. She believes there will be an increase in pregnancy-related deaths because of laws banning abortion, leading to a significant shift in public perception on the issue.
“If you can’t control your fertility you can’t control your life,” she said.