On March 17, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed a bill banning the most popular form of abortion — abortion medication. The law has put Wyoming at the forefront of anti-abortion legislation in America, as the state is the first in the nation to explicitly ban the use of pills that terminate pregnancies.
Medical abortion is a non-surgical method of abortion that was approved by the F.D.A in 2000. It includes a two-drug combination of the pill mifepristone, which is taken along with the pill misoprostol one or two days later. Throughout its 20 years of use in the U.S., it has become the most common form of abortion — accounting for more than half of all U.S. abortions as it is preferred by patients for its discreteness and cost.
Wyoming’s ban on medical abortion is intended to take effect on July 1. Under the law, the act of prescribing, administrating or selling abortion medication for the purpose of performing an abortion is considered a felony and is subject to five years in prison. Doctors that do so will have their licenses revoked, but there are narrow exceptions to the law for instances of incest, rape, risks to a patient’s life and for treating natural miscarriages.
Wyoming is not the only state that seeks to limit access to medical abortion. 15 states have restrictions on medical abortion, such as the requirement that abortion medication be approved by a physician or the requirement that the patient have an in-person visit with a doctor. In Texas where abortion is already banned, a bill has been introduced that includes multiple provisions that would block access to abortion pills — even making it difficult for patients to learn about or obtain out of state abortion services. The bill states it would be illegal to “create, edit, upload, publish, host, maintain, or register a domain name for an internet website, platform, or other interactive computer service that assists or facilitates a person’s effort in obtaining an abortion-inducing drug.” Many patients access information about abortion options online through websites like Plan C, which shares resources for patients to access abortion pills by mail with clinician support through telemedicine.
A federal judge will also decide on a case filed by anti-abortion groups that want the F.D.A. to revoke its approval of mifepristone and misoprostol in the U.S. The groups argue that the F.D.A did not follow proper protocols when the medications were approved, as well as that the pills are unsafe. A decision in favor of the anti-abortion groups would mark an unprecedented occurrence, with the F.D.A. being ordered to revoke a drug against its will. While the F.D.A. would immediately appeal this decision, if it stands it will affect not only states where abortion is banned, but where it is legal as well.
One SUNY New Paltz student shares a recent experience with taking mifepristone and misoprostol, following a medical abortion in early March. “Plenty of people have used the medication. It’s obviously safe. It’s been FDA approved,” she stated. “It’s also lifesaving — like people that have had miscarriages or a stillborn. It helps get everything out and makes sure that one doesn’t get an infection.”
“It’s important that people are educated on all the things that the medication is used for, not just abortion,” she added.
Wyoming has also tried to implement a more sweeping ban on abortion. The bill dubbed the Life is a Human Right Act intended to ban abortion in most cases with few exceptions, but was blocked by Judge Melissa Owens a few days after it took effect. Judge Owens sided with abortion-rights supporters on the basis that the bill violates a 2012 amendment to the state constitution, which grants Wyoming citizens the right to their own healthcare decisions. Wyoming has tried to work around this amendment, arguing that “instead of being health care, abortion is the intentional termination of the life of an unborn baby,” in the act. Judge Owens disagreed: “An abortion can only be performed by a licensed medical professional, so what authority does the legislature have to declare that abortion is not health care when our laws only allow a licensed medical professional to administer one?” she asked at a hearing, according to The New York Times. Her decision pauses the abortion ban until further court hearings proceed in a lawsuit challenging the ban.
“As it stands right now, abortion is legal in Wyoming, for the moment at least, and it is being provided,” said Christine Lichtenfels of Chelsea’s Fund — Wyoming’s Abortion Fund. Chelsea’s Fund is a member of the National Network of Abortion Funds, and its mission is to enable people to be able to access abortion services. This includes operating a hotline that people contact when they need support funding an abortion or figuring out an appropriate clinic to visit. Wyoming only has one abortion clinic, which provides only medical, not surgical abortion: the Women’s Health & Family Care Clinic in Jackson. “We’re a place where people can get information and support, because Wyoming’s a big state,” Lichtenfels said. “A lot of times, at least historically, people have had to go out of state and that can sometimes be difficult with given weather, road closures and things like that.”
Lichtenfels has been involved in advocating for abortion since the early 2000s as a member of NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, and she took on a leadership position at Chelsea’s Fund because she knew it was a “vital resource in Wyoming.”
“People are trying to put more barriers in front of people being able to access simple, affordable healthcare. This goes counter to the Wyoming that I’ve known for many years where people pretty much didn’t want the government involved in personal matters,” Lichtenfels stated. “But that’s changed in the last few years here, where suddenly there appears to be a small vocal group of people that are trying to impose their religious views on the matter. I don’t care what someone else’s views are. But I don’t want them to stand in the way of other people being able to make this decision for themselves.”
“Historically traditional Wyoming values revolve around equality and privacy and freedom from government. We really hope that those values will win the day, because that is what being able to make decisions about your own health care is all about.”