Trial On Whether Abortion Is A Wyoming Right Set For Next Spring

Abortion could remain legal in Wyoming for another 10 months at least, as a state district court has scheduled a trial on the matter for next April.

CM
Clair McFarland

June 12, 20233 min read

People rally for and against abortion outside the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne.
People rally for and against abortion outside the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Abortion could remain legal in Wyoming for another 10 months at least, as a state district court has scheduled a trial on the matter for next April. 

District Court Judge Melissa Owens set a three-day bench trial in Johnson vs. Wyoming for April 15, 2024, according to a June 9 filing in Teton County District Court. 

The trial is to weigh whether Wyoming’s newly passed abortion bans are legal under the Wyoming Constitution, which promises health care autonomy for state residents but also reserves for the Legislature some power to regulate that autonomy. 

Owens in April placed a temporary restraining order on the Life Is A Human Right Act, which would have banned nearly all abortions in Wyoming. The judge has not yet issued a preliminary injunction, which is a longer block, against the law, but she issued a preliminary injunction against a similar law in the prequel to this case last year. 

Owens indicated at the time that she would define abortion as health care, and therefore uphold it as a right in Wyoming. 

The plaintiffs, a coalition of abortion advocates, asked last month for another temporary restraining order on the states’ chemical abortion ban, which is slated to go into effect July 1. 

Not Sure About Chemical Abortions Yet

Owens has scheduled a June 22 hearing to contemplate whether to pause the chemical abortion ban. 

The plaintiffs are arguing that the chemical abortion ban will cause them irreparable harm if it goes into effect, and may be unconstitutional.

Wyoming authorities through Attorney General deputy Jay Jerde conversely are arguing that the ban is in line with longstanding Wyoming tradition before landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade created a federal abortion right for 49 years. 

The high court repealed Roe last June, removing the federal right to abortion and relegating the decision to the states. 

Jerde also called the plaintiffs’ irreparable harm speculative, and cautioned Owens against using her power to restrain laws excessively, against the legislative and executive branches of government and their constitutional authorities. 

“Plaintiffs are not entitled to a temporary restraining order just because they dislike the policies embodied in the chemical abortion statute,” wrote Jerde. 

The final status hearing in the case is set for March 14, 2024. 

At trial in April, the parties in the lawsuit will have 30 minutes each for opening statements, 30-45 minutes for closing arguments, plus another 10-15-minute rebuttal opportunity for the plaintiffs. 

In between, the parties may be able to show exhibits in support of their cases, according to Owens’ order. 

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter