Cassandra Scott considers herself a veteran of Wyoming’s often risky travel conditions.
Yet the treacherous roads still took her by surprise on a clear February day when she and her husband left their Laramie home and traveled to Fort Collins for a medical abortion. Both lanes of the highway were covered in ice and wind-driven ground blizzards obscured the roadway. She saw a car slide across the grassy median and into her lane. A trip that should have lasted an hour stretched out of three.
By the time she arrived at Planned Parenthood, she was an hour late for her appointment — the office had tried to call Scott, but cell service was spotty on the way. She begged the receptionist not to reschedule: they had to ask her mother to babysit, her husband had a day off and they didn’t want to repeat the trip. Besides, it had taken three weeks to schedule the appointment in the first place. “It’s kind of an urgent matter,” Scott said.
She was persuasive, which worked out in her favour. After her ultrasound, Scott discovered that she was not six weeks pregnant, as she had originally believed, but 11 weeks and three days. This meant she would need a surgical rather than medical abortion. Scott was grateful that her husband was there, because the clinic wouldn’t let her drive home alone.
“There are a lot of bumps and hurdles in that short distance,” Scott said.
Like Scott, most Wyoming women who seek an abortion must travel to Colorado for the procedure. There are only two Wyoming providers — both in Jackson — who perform the procedure. One clinic only offers medical abortions up to 10 weeks pregnant, and the other offers surgical and medical abortions.
According to the 2020 Induced Termination Pregnancy Report, 91 abortions were performed in Wyoming that year, all of which occurred before 11 weeks. Many other residents of the state have had the procedure, according to Dr. Giovannina Anthony, who works at one of the last clinics in the state openly offering abortions, but not within state lines.
“Seventy percent of Wyoming women who have abortions do so in Colorado,” Anthony said. Just the Pill, a website that allows women to order abortion-inducing drugs by mail, serves residents, but for surgical abortions, women primarily travel out of state.
Wyoming’s already limited access to abortions may soon be completely eliminated.
In a reversal of longstanding policy, the Wyoming legislature passed what could amount to a total ban on abortion, except in cases where it is medically necessary, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or of an incest – an exception that has barely passed. House Bill 92 – Abortion Ban – Supreme Court ruling would ban abortion in the state if Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
Governor Mark Gordon signed the “trigger ban” bill into law on Tuesday.
Access to abortion, like access to many types of medical care in Wyoming, has long been limited by availability. But the level of legislative support for anti-abortion legislation needed to pass HB 92 marks a more recent shift. For years, bills banning abortion have struggled to gain traction.
“Wyoming hasn’t been on the abortion restrictions radar for decades,” said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research center. A change in the makeup of the Legislative Assembly, more aggressive anti-abortion lobbying efforts and a more piecemeal approach to restrictions have converged to make HB 92 possible, according to proponents and opponents of the abortion ban.
“I think grassroots like me are starting to stand up and say, ‘We have to get involved,'” said Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. represented by people who don’t necessarily represent our values, and that’s why I think you see a change.
Wyoming already has certain restrictions on the books, including mandatory parental consent for minors and a ban on public funds to pay for abortions, except in certain scenarios such as rape and incest, or if the procedure is judged medically. necessary, according to NARAL-Pro Choice America.
Surgical abortions aren’t widely available in Wyoming because there isn’t enough demand to cover the costs of purchasing equipment and training nurses, Anthony said. Dr. Brent Blue is the only doctor in the state to offer surgical abortions, though he says it’s a rarely requested procedure.
Even without laws that restrict access to abortion, there aren’t many options for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. Those who travel to Salt Lake City or Boise for an abortion face wait-time laws that can extend the delay. Utah requires a 72-hour waiting period between consultation and procedure, while Idaho requires 24 hours.
Another hurdle is Wyoming’s brutal winter conditions and frequent road closures, said Christine Lichtenfels, board member of Chelsea’s Fund, an organization that provides financial assistance to those seeking abortions. “It’s a real problem,” Lichtenfels said. “It’s hard enough to get time off from work, babysit, maybe borrow a car.”
The Idaho legislature banned abortions after six weeks, and Utah implemented a trigger ban bill that, like Wyoming’s, would ban the procedure if Roe were overturned.
Restrictions in several states mean those seeking abortions may have to travel as far away as Oregon or California, where resources could be quickly overwhelmed, Nash told Guttmacher.
“There will be a period of time where the capacity will be very limited, because even in available states like Oregon, California, Washington or Colorado, they are also not able to meet the needs that exist in their State,” she said. “Then you add more patients, especially patients who travel, it’s a big burden.”
Between the late 1980s and 2017, abortion bans were essentially off the legislative agenda in Wyoming, Nash said. Bills were introduced during this period and some gained some support, but none reached the governor’s office, according to Nash.
For example, a 2013 bill banning abortion after a heartbeat died in committee, while in 2021 the Human Heart Rhythm Protection Act was dropped from committee but ultimately died.
While Wyoming has long been a Republican stronghold, lawmakers weren’t seeking as aggressive abortion restrictions as they have in recent years, Nash said. “There was a lot of this approach of ‘there are things that are private, and you handle them in the way that you think is best.'”
Over the past five years or so, however, the legislature has enacted more restrictions and regulations. For example, although Wyoming required clinics to provide data on the number of abortions performed, in 2019 penalties for non-compliance were added.
“In the 17 years I’ve been here, I think this legislature has moved from a much more libertarian conservatism to a radical, right-wing type of political milieu,” Anthony said.
Robert Johnston, executive director of the Wyoming Health Council, also noted a change. “It got a lot uglier,” Johnston said. “I think some of the elements that we see in our legislature are asking the government to oversee things that a traditional Republican would never approve of.”
Sharon Breitweiser, executive director of Pro-Choice Wyoming, wants to dispel the idea that abortion rights were ever completely secure in Wyoming. “We worked hard every year from 1990 to 2022,” Breitweiser said, “but it’s obviously gotten worse in recent years.” Breitweiser also noted that anti-abortion activists have exerted more pressure on lawmakers, using what she described as “bullying tactics.”
Abortion advocates say they have stepped up their efforts in recent years, and both sides of the issue are increasing their amplification.
“When I moved here 30 years ago I thought it was a pro-life state until I realized there were abortion laws on the books,” Marti said. Halverson, president of the Wyoming chapter of Right to Life. She said that over the past few years, her organization has become more active across the state and called out lawmakers “who voted against life.” For example, Right to Life ranks legislators on its web page. Lawmakers who have co-sponsored at least one anti-abortion bill are rated “bronze,” while those who have only backed measures receive an “honorable mention.”
“I think both sides are getting stronger and stronger,” Halverson said.
She also noted the new class of lawmakers elected in 2020. “I think they’ve brought a lot of the pro-life conversation to the surface,” Halverson said.
House Bill 92’s lead sponsor, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, has served since 2021. Rep. John Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, one of the bill’s 15 co-sponsors, is also a newcomer. the Wyoming Legislative Assembly, as did Bear.
2021 marked what many consider to be the biggest groundswell of legislative action yet — lawmakers introduced eight abortion bills during the session. “I would say I think it happened last year,” Romero-Martinez said. “I think the preparatory part of the movement has been happening since I was a teenager.”
None of the three are convinced that Roe v. Wade will be knocked down. “I’m hopeful,” Halverson said. Romero-Martinez says he did not support the exception allowing victims of rape and incest access to abortion, and if the Supreme Court allows Wyoming to ban abortion, the legislature will still have work to do.
With women like Scott already traveling out of state for abortions, a total ban in Wyoming, Utah and Idaho could lead to even longer wait times and other challenges in places that offer the procedure again.
“It will again leave access largely to those with more resources,” said Lichtenfels of Chelsea’s Fund. “It will be important to let people know that abortion is still legal in this country and that people shouldn’t feel like they’re submissive and can’t have any authority over their own lives.”