Wyoming Supreme Court Won’t Answer Abortion Questions Early

The Wyoming Supreme Court declined late Tuesday to decide whether abortion is unconstitutional in the state, saying a lower-level district court should grapple with those questions first.

Clair McFarland

April 10, 20243 min read

Supreme court and judge Melissa Owens 2 2 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The Wyoming Supreme Court declined Tuesday to decide whether abortion is unconstitutional in the state, saying the lower-level district court should grapple with those questions first.

“The Court acknowledges it will likely be required, at some point, to rule on the constitutionality of Wyoming’s abortion laws,” reads an order filed by the Wyoming Supreme Court late Tuesday. “This Court stands ready to do so, if and when those constitutional questions are properly presented to it.”

Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens sent a certification order to the high court March 25, asking it to rule on 14 constitutional questions surrounding Wyoming’s ban on nearly all abortions, and another ban outlawing the marketing of chemicals to cause abortions.

Owens’ main question was whether a ban on abortions would violate a right to health care autonomy in the Wyoming Constitution. But she also relayed numerous other questions from the challenges of pro-choice plaintiffs, ranging from arguments that abortion bans violate due process to claims they cause sectarianism in public schools.

Not Enough ‘Facts’

Owens did not include enough “facts,” or lists of allegations in the case, for the state Supreme Court to make these decisions, the Tuesday order says.

“This Court fails to see how it can answer the certified questions with the facts set out in the certification order,” says the filing, which then lists examples, such as its inability to judge whether the bans violate religious liberty or are unconstitutionally vague, without a more detailed narrative.

Lastly, the Supreme Court directed Owens to rule on separate motions for summary judgment from the state and plaintiffs, in which the opposing sides both ask for an early, pre-trial resolution in their own favor.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys clashed with Wyoming Attorney General Deputy Jay Jerde in a lengthy summary judgment hearing Dec. 14.

Owens has not judged the case early for either side.

“A ruling from the district court could refine and narrow the issues this Court will be called upon to determine,” says the order. “It is therefore ordered that this Court declines to answer the certified questions.”

Second Rodeo

Owens certified questions to the high court nearly two years ago, Nov. 30, 2022, saying she couldn’t find Wyoming Supreme Court precedent to guide her decisions on an early version of this same case, with the same plaintiffs.

The high court declined to decide the abortion question then as well, issuing a response three weeks later saying the case narrative wasn’t developed enough.

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter