Courts block abortion bans in Wyoming, North Dakota

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Abortion bans set to take effect this week in Wyoming and North Dakota were temporarily blocked Wednesday by judges in those states amid lawsuits arguing that the bans violate their state constitutions.

A judge in Wyoming sided with a firebombed women’s health clinic and others who argued the ban would harm health care workers and their patients, while a North Dakota judge sided with the state’s only abortion clinic, Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo.

The Wyoming law was set to take effect Wednesday. The North Dakota law was set to take effect Thursday.

Meanwhile, West Virginia lawmakers moved ahead with a ban amid protests and dozens speaking against the measure.

During hours of debate leading up to the 69-23 vote in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates in West Virginia, the sound of screams and chants from protesters standing outside the chamber rang through the room.

“Face us,” the crowd yelled.

The latest court action in North Dakota and Wyoming put them among several states including Kentucky, Louisiana and Utah where judges have temporarily blocked implementation of “trigger laws” while lawsuits play out.

Attorneys arguing before Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens, in Jackson, Wyoming, disagreed over whether the state constitution provided a right to abortion that would nullify the state’s abortion “trigger” law that took effect Wednesday.

Owens proved most sympathetic, though, with arguments that the ban left pregnant patients with dangerous complications and their doctors in a difficult position as they balanced serious medical risks against the possibility of prosecution.

“That is a possible irreparable injury to the plaintiffs. They are left with no guidance,” Owens said.

Several states including Wyoming recently passed abortion “trigger” bans should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, which happened June 24. The U.S. Supreme Court formally issued its judgment Tuesday.

After a more than three-week review, Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, last week gave the go-ahead for the Wyoming abortion ban he signed into law in March to take effect Wednesday but it is instead on hold after the ruling.

The Wyoming law would outlaw abortions except in cases of rape or incest or to protect the mother’s life or health, not including psychological conditions. Doctors and others who provide illegal abortions under Wyoming’s new law could get up to 14 years in prison.

The four Wyoming women and two nonprofits that sued Monday to contest the new law claim it violates several rights guaranteed by the state constitution. Wyoming Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde was skeptical, saying the state constitution neither explicitly nor implicitly allowed abortion.

“No such right exists. You can’t infringe what isn’t there,” Jerde told Owens.

The lawsuit claims the abortion ban will harm the women — two obstetricians, a pregnant nurse and a University of Wyoming law student — by outlawing potentially life-saving treatment options for their patients or themselves.

Those suing include a nonprofit opening a Casper women’s and LGBTQ health clinic, Wellspring Health Access, that would have offered abortions. A May arson attack has set back the clinic’s opening from mid-June until at least the end of this year.

In North Dakota, Burleigh County District Judge Bruce Romanick sided with the state’s only abortion clinic that the state had moved fast to let the law take effect. The clinic had argued that a 30-day clock should not have started until the U.S. Supreme Court issued its certified judgment on Tuesday.

The ruling will give the Red River clinic more time to relocate a few miles away to Moorhead, Minnesota, where abortion remains legal. North Dakota’s law would make abortion illegal in the state except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Meetra Mehdizadeh, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is helping the clinic with the suit, said the plaintiffs “will do everything in our power to fight this ban and keep abortion accessible in North Dakota for as long as possible.”

In West Virginia, meanwhile, lawmakers on Wednesday debated a sweeping abortion ban bill on the House floor that would make providing the procedure a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The bill makes exceptions for rape or incest up to 14 weeks of gestation and for certain medical complications.

“What’s ringing in my ears is not the noise of the people here,” said one of the bill’s supporters, Republican Del. Brandon Steele of Raleigh County. “It’s the cries of the unborn, tens of thousands of unborn children that are dead today.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said a 19th century law banned abortion in the state. Last week, a state judge barred the state from enforcing that ban, saying it was superseded by conflicting, newer laws.

Hundreds of people descended on the state Capitol for the debate. Many stood outside the House chamber and Speaker Roger Hanshaw’s office chanting and holding signs reading “we will not go quietly” and “stop stealing our health care.” Security officers escorted some from the House chambers.

Dozens spoke against the bill on the House floor including Katie Quiñonez, executive director of the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, who was cut off and asked to step down as she started to talk about the abortion she got when she was 17.

“I chose life,” she said, raising her voice to speak over the interruption. “I chose my life, because my life is sacred.”

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Associated Press reporter Dave Kolpack contributed to this report from Fargo, North Dakota. Willingham reported from Charleston, West Virginia. Follow Mead Gruver on Twitter at https://twitter.com/meadgruver.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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