House advances bill calling for waiting period on abortions

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming House of Representatives voted to advance legislation mandating a 48-hour waiting period for abortions in a late night hearing Tuesday night, signaling momentum for anti-abortion advocates in what has been an active year for pro-life legislation in Wyoming.

Voted in just hours before the midnight reporting deadline, House Bill 197 – a carbon copy of a similar bill defeated in the 2019 session – stands as one of several so-far successful pieces of anti-abortion legislation to make its way through the Legislature this year.

In addition to backing House and Senate budget amendments to ban University of Wyoming fees from paying for elective abortions, the Legislature has also lent its weight to several other bills regulating abortion in Wyoming, including Senate legislation requiring infants that survived an abortion to be given the same life-saving care as other infants and a “heartbeat bill,” which failed to make it off the floor in the upper chamber.

Sponsored by Sheridan Republican Rep. Richard Tass, the waiting-period bill has been described as a means to allow women the time to “reflect” on the gravity before their decision to have an abortion while, simultaneously, imposing a felony offense for any physicians who fail to comply with the law – the harshest punishment in place for any of the state’s abortion statutes.

Controversial both for its subject matter and the penalties attached to it, the legislation did not pass without immense resistance from some moderate Republicans as well as House Democrats, who brought several amendments intended to soften the penalties contained in the bill and to clarify some of the bill’s language.

“I know this is futile but frankly, at some point, someone has to care about a woman’s rights,” said Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper. “I truly don’t urge anyone to have an abortion – I’m not that person. But I am that person when it comes to a woman’s rights on health care decisions.

“This bill is an example of governmental infringement into health care,” he added.

All but one of those amendments failed.

Among the most prescient brought before the committee was an amendment from Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, to delay the implementation of the legislation until 2022, allowing the Legislature to debate the issue when there was more time to deal with social issues, arguing that taking on contentious, social issues during the budget session could set a negative precedent for future sessions.

“By taking this amendment, we’re saying the thing we believe is true when it’s about someone else is also going to be true when it’s me,” Burlingame said on the floor. “Because the only other option that I see to this is one that is punishing – one that says ‘OK, I guess we don’t have a budget process, everybody bring all the bills. Everybody just come up and talk as long as you can, and let’s just open the floodgates.’ That sounds like a terrible process, it sounds punitive, it sounds like the worst things everybody seems to think about us, where it’s all about manipulating the system to try and gain the upper hand. If we don’t want that, we have to make it not true.

“We have to trust in one another, and you have to trust that this amendment will do one thing: it doesn’t take away the 48 hours, it doesn’t take away the penalty, it just puts it where it belongs – in the General Session,” she added. “You can go home and tell your constituents you voted for this bill and also know that you honored the process, and put it where it belonged.”

That amendment failed.

Having passed the committee of the whole and likely to pass a second reading vote Wednesday, the bill now has one more vote – on Thursday – before heading to the Senate, where it will likely pass. Some Democrats, however, wish the debate around the bill had been more measured, even as Tass argued the bill had been discussed and contemplated by state lawmakers for more than a year.

“I think given that it’s 10 p.m. at night and that we’re debating one of the most socially contentious issues in the state, I just want to display my disappointment in us dealing with this so late during a budget session,” Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, said.