Pro-Lifers Ask Wyoming Supreme Court To Let Them Into Abortion Suit

A pair of Wyoming lawmakers who were denied their requests to intervene in a lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s abortion bans have appealed to the state Supreme Court.

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Clair McFarland

August 07, 20234 min read

State Reps. Chip Neiman, left, and Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, right, are appealing to the state Supreme Court a denial by Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens to intervene in a lawsuit challenging Wyoming's abortion bans.
State Reps. Chip Neiman, left, and Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, right, are appealing to the state Supreme Court a denial by Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens to intervene in a lawsuit challenging Wyoming's abortion bans. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily; Bradly J. Boner, Jackson Hole News&Guide, Pool)

Two Wyoming lawmakers and a pro-life group are appealing to the state Supreme Court to let them defend two new abortion bans in court.   

The appeal comes after Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens rejected the applicants’ motion to intervene in Johnson vs. Wyoming, a lawsuit challenging the state’s two newest abortion bans under the Wyoming Constitution’s promise of health care autonomy.  

Wyoming House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Chip Neiman and Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, Republicans from Hulett and Cody respectively, and pro-life group Wyoming Right to Life, filed a notice of appeal Friday. They will be asking the state’s highest court to let them intervene in the case to defend two new abortion bans — one banning nearly all abortions and another banning the marketing and distribution of drugs to cause abortions.  

Another person who applied to intervene and whom Owens rejected, Secretary of State Chuck Gray, has not appealed for a second chance to enter the case. He told Cowboy State Daily in a Monday text that the "unelected" Attorney General is more focused on opposing his intervention "than vigorously defending the right to human life," and that the case "had simply become too muddled with multiple parties" and he didn't want to detract from the issues on appeal. The decision was mutual among the other proposed intervenors, he said.

Here’s Why 

Owens on July 20 filed an order explaining why she rejected the would-be defenders of the new laws.  

She wrote that the lawmakers, the pro-life group and the secretary of state didn’t have significant protectable interests in the case.  

They’ve been longtime pro-life activists, she noted, but that wasn’t enough.  

“Advocacy efforts alone do not create a legally protectable interest,” wrote Owens.

Courts routinely find that legislators don’t have protectable interests at stake when they ask to join cases to protect the laws they helped to craft, the judge added.  

Secondly, continued Owens, even if the applicants had protectable interests, the Wyoming Attorney General already is representing them.  

The proposed intervenors had argued in court that the state AG was not doing enough to defend the bans, and that they will bring evidence showing that abortion is not health care.  

Owens called this a difference in strategy, but that the AG isn’t failing to support the pro-abortion ban interest.  

“The office of the Wyoming Attorney General is currently asserting a vigorous defense of the act,” wrote Owens.  

No Permission 

There’s another mechanism whereby judges can let intervenors into cases at their own discretion, if it won’t cause delay and confusion.  

Owens declined to do that, saying it “risks duplicating the presentation of the defense in this matter and risks the presentation of cumulative argument … (and) risks unduly delaying this matter and prejudicing the adjudication of rights.”  

Rabbi, Reverend, Professor And Prosecutor 

Meanwhile, the pro-abortion plaintiffs on Aug. 2 submitted a notice of expert witnesses preparing to testify on their behalf.

OB-GYN Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi is bracing to criticize the abortion ban’s alleged misalignment with medical terminology.  

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg is set to speak on how Judaism relates to the abortion issue, since a Jewish plaintiff is asserting that her faith requires her to consider abortion.  

Dr. Rebecca Peters, a professor of religious studies at Elon University, is set to testify on the pro-life movement’s connection with Christianity. This comes after the plaintiffs claimed the abortion bans were religious in nature.  

Michael A. Blonigen, a Wyoming attorney and longtime prosecutor, is slated to tell the court that the new bans would be difficult for prosecutors to apply.   

The plaintiffs are paying all their expert witnesses $200 per hour for consultation and $1,000 per day of travel or testimony, according to the filing, except for Blonigen, who is charging $150 an hour for his work.  

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

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter