Wyoming governor vetoes abortion restrictions, signs ban on transgender medical care for minors
Wyoming governor vetoes abortion restrictions, signs ban on transgender medical care for minors

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming’s governor on Friday vetoed a bill that would have raised significant barriers to abortion if it remained legal in the state and signed legislation banning the care of gender-affirming minors.

The abortion bill vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, would have required facilities that perform surgical abortions to be licensed as ambulatory surgery centers, adding to their cost and the burden they face to operate.

Women were required to have an ultrasound at least 48 hours before a surgical or pill abortion to determine the gestational age of the fetus and the location and viability of the pregnancy.

Abortion is legal in Wyoming pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging new laws banning the procedure. The bill targeted the state’s only full-service abortion clinic, Wellspring Health Access. The Casper facility opened in 2023 — almost a year later than planned after he was badly burned in the arson by a woman who opposed abortion.

Gordon said in announcing the veto that the measure would have “properly regulated” clinics. But he said the amendments added by lawmakers make it vulnerable to legal challenge.

“The state is closer than ever to a decision on the constitutionality of abortion in Wyoming,” Gordon said in a statement, adding that the bill “has the potential to further delay resolution of this critical issue for the unborn.”

Most abortions at Wellspring are performed via the pill, but the clinic has also been able to perform surgical abortions, according to clinic officials who oppose the bill.

The measure would require that abortions at each clinic be performed only by a licensed physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) away.

The result would be large new costs to renovate Wellspring to meet standards for ambulatory surgery facilities while obtaining “medically unnecessary” privileges for its doctors, clinic founder Julie Burkhart said in an emailed statement. Women also face additional travel costs and time off work to meet the ultrasound requirement, Burkhart added.

She said the bill aims to close the clinic, which will hurt people who need abortion services.

“Banning abortion will never serve as a means of making this health care obsolete,” she said.

Last year, the Wyoming Legislature passed — and Gordon signed into law — measures that restrict abortions in the state, including the U.S.’s first outright ban on the abortion pill. Teton County Circuit Judge Melissa Owens in Jackson laid down the laws on hold while handling lawsuits against them brought by Wellspring and others.

At hearing in December, Owens said he planned to issue a ruling rather than take the case to trial. On Monday, however, she sent all the major issues in the case to the state Supreme Court to hear them instead.

Owens is sympathetic to abortion rights supporters in Wyoming. She said they are likely to prevail, for example, arguing that abortion is allowed under a 2012 state constitutional amendment that says competent adults have the right to make their own health care decisions.

Wyoming lawyers counter that the amendment — passed in response to the federal Affordable Care Act — was never intended to apply to abortion.

Wyoming’s latest abortion bill faced a higher bar just to be debated in this year’s legislative session, which ended March 8. Non-budget bills in the four-week session needed a two-thirds vote to be introduced.

“Those of us who support legislation like this know deep down that life has meaning beyond this floor,” Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, said in a debate before the bill passed the Senate on a 24-6 vote 1 March.

The bill previously cleared the state House on a 53-9 vote.

Although he rejected the abortion bill, Gordon signed a measure that would make Wyoming the latest state to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, saying he supported the bill’s protections for minors. However, he added that he also believed such legislation meant the government was “interfering in the private affairs of families”.

At least 24 states have passed laws restricting or prohibiting gender-affirming medical care for minors, and most of these states have been sued. Federal judge overturned Arkansas’ ban as unconstitutional. In Idaho and Montanajudge orders are in effect temporarily blocking the enforcement of the bans.

Wyoming lawmakers also passed bills this session enforcing parental rights in education. Gordon said the Legislature needs to “determine its intent” on parental rights.

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