Wyoming braces for Roe v. Wade impact

CASPER — The leaked draft ruling showing that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade is raising a lot of questions about what will happen to abortion in Wyoming, particularly following the state’s passage of an abortion trigger bill in March. The Supreme Court verified Tuesday that the leaked document is authentic. 

The draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito and published Monday night by Politico, is a strong rejection of the 1973 landmark case that made abortion a constitutional right in the U.S.

The draft’s implications are dramatic. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, that means it’ll be up to states to decide the legality of abortion within their borders. 

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed House Bill 92, which would trigger a near-total ban on abortions in Wyoming if the Supreme Court does away with Roe. Some Wyoming legislators who were against House Bill 92 argued that it could cause mayhem for the state if the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe was ambiguous. But based on the current draft, it appears the Supreme Court’s decision would be pretty clear-cut. 

“It looks like its on track for a rapid implementation,” Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said in reference to Wyoming’s abortion trigger bill. 

Case was one of a handful of legislators who were against the abortion trigger bill. His amendment on the bill, which ended up passing after a similar one by Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, failed, provides for exceptions to the potential abortion ban in cases where the mother’s life or physical health is in extreme danger, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. 

“It seems pretty clear that we’re going to have many restrictions and maybe a complete reversal of Roe v. Wade,” Case said. “There are a lot of people who are on pins and needles about this.”

House Bill 92, the abortion trigger ban that legislators passed in March, would outlaw abortion in Wyoming except for a handful of circumstances including extreme physical danger to the mother or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. 

Case said he thinks that “it would take a sea of change in political thinking” to reverse the bill.

David Adler, a professor of constitutional law and the director of the Alturas Institute, said it’s important to remember the leaked opinion is only a draft — the text of the opinion, or the actual vote itself, could still change.

But if it becomes final, Adler said Wyoming would likely see the ban in place within 35 days of the opinion. That’s the maximum time the law provides for a review by the state attorney general and certification from the governor.

Wyoming’s ban, while nearly total, is still more moderate than other states that have trigger laws in place that don’t allow abortions to be performed even in cases related to sexual assault or incest.

Cristina González, a nurse who works with Lander-based nonprofit Chelsea’s Fund, said it’s too early to tell what the opinion will mean for Wyomingites. The fund gives financial assistance to people ordering abortion pills through the mail, which can be obtained with a telemedicine referral. González said she’s not yet sure how that service will be affected, but that the fund’s board will be meeting to discuss a “game plan” in the event the opinion becomes final.

Abortion wouldn’t be illegal everywhere if the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade. A reversal of Roe v. Wade would give states the ability to decide on the legality of abortion.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, a pro-life legislator, told the Star-Tribune that it would be “nice to see the power going to states.” 

“This is a pivotal time in our country’s history,” he said. “It’s also a pivotal in that this is an issue of states’ rights to rule.” 

A return of power to states over abortion would likely make the practice illegal in about half the U.S., according to the New York Times.

The U.S. Senate could still vote to pass a bill — which has already made it through the House — to codify Roe v. Wade and make abortion legal on the federal level. But that would likely require some uncharacteristic votes from Republican senators, or a possible elimination of the filibuster to allow the bill to pass without bipartisan support.

“One of the first things that jumped to mind was how important this year’s elections are going to be,” said Sharon Breitweiser, the executive director of Pro-Choice Wyoming. She said the coming vote isn’t likely to change the Wyoming Legislature’s makeup enough to pave the way to repealing the trigger law “in the near future,” but her group hopes to “start moving in that direction.” 

“I don’t want to be naive, but I don’t know what other hope we have.”

Overturning Roe v. Wade would essentially make the Mountain West an abortion desert. Abortions would, in most instances, be illegal in Wyoming. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Idaho and Nebraska would probably move to ban abortion. Utah enacted a trigger law in 2020. South Dakota and North Dakota also have trigger bans.

If Roe falls, Colorado and Montana would be the only two states neighboring Wyoming where abortion would be legal. Those states are gearing up to provide more services for people who live in states where abortion would be outlawed.

Abortions are already hard to get in Wyoming. There’s only one clinic — the Women’s Health and Family Care Center in Jackson — that currently offers abortion services. Founder of Wellspring Health Access Julie Burkhart said last month that she plans to open a clinic in Casper. Burkhart said in a statement Tuesday morning that she continues to move forward with those plans despite the revelations of the leaked opinion draft.

But Wyoming is a big state and essentially an abortion desert already. Not everyone can drive to a clinic to get an abortion. 

To be clear, the leaked opinion is still a draft. 

“We don’t know if a judge might change his or her mind,” Sen. Bear, the anti-abortion legislator from Gillette, said. “The impact right now with the leak is that there is a great deal more pressure on judges.” 

ACLU spokesperson Janna Farley also emphasized that the decision isn’t set in stone. 

“While it confirms our deepest fears about what the Supreme Court is ready to do, nothing is final,” she told the Star-Tribune on Tuesday.

The ACLU, which was heavily involved in debates on Wyoming’s abortion trigger ban, also said the decision could change. 

“We are not conceding anything right now and we will not let the Court off the hook when a decision is finally published,” the statement said. “But if the Court does indeed overturn Roe, it would have a devastating impact on the lives of millions of people — falling most quickly and heavily on the most marginalized people: people of color, those trying to make ends meet, young people, and undocumented immigrants,” the statement continued. 

Michelle St. Louis, an anti-abortion Casper resident, said she’s “still somewhat skeptical” about the leaked opinion’s implications. 

“We’ll see. I’m not ready to jump up and down in the streets yet,” she said. “I would like this to be a done deal.” 

Another Casper resident opposing the city’s planned clinic, Ross Schriftman, said he thinks the leak is likely to divide people even more on the already contentious issue. 

The Wyoming Democratic Party will “weigh (its) options” for potential legal action in response to the pending decision, said executive director Sarah Hunt. 

“In the meantime, our mission is to elect policymakers who see this ruling for what it is: an attack on our freedom to make personal medical decisions, including when to start a family or choose reproductive healthcare options,” Hunt said. 

The added public scrutiny, thanks to the leak, may also influence the Supreme Court’s final opinion, according to Adler. It’s also sparked a Supreme Court investigation into the leak, and drawn anger from many anti-abortion politicians. 

“It will be interesting to see how the final opinion is different from this opinion,” Case, the Republican lawmaker from Lander, said.

The Supreme Court is likely to make a final decision on Roe v. Wade in June.