A bill that would prohibit chemical abortions in Wyoming cleared the state Senate on Friday and is headed to the House of Representatives.
Wyoming Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, is the main sponsor of Senate File 109, which also lists Wyoming Reps. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, and Sarah Penn, R-Lander, as co-sponsors, among others.
Salazar presented the legislation to the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee on Wednesday, noting that SF 109 is identical to a bill he introduced last year that passed the Wyoming Senate but was not received for introduction in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
“This bill does only one thing,” Salazar told the committee. “It prevents the use of four drugs being used for (the) sole purpose of performing an abortion.
“It does not prevent contraception. It prevents the prosecution of a woman who receives an abortion. It allows the treatment of miscarriage, and it allows abortion in cases of rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother.”
Three people with ties to Fremont County offered public comment on SF 109 during the meeting, beginning with Cristina Gonzales, a registered nurse and trained sexual assault nurse examiner who spent five years working on the Wind River Indian Reservation providing sexual assault examinations for enrolled Tribal members.
Gonzales’ feedback focused on the caveat allowing abortions in the case of rape.
That exception “assumes that reporting an assault is available to all victims,” she said, “thus ignoring those in a community where justice for such crimes is unattainable.”
Many of the sexual assault survivors Gonzales worked with on the reservation were “resolved that justice would not be served” by a police report, she explained, and they “feared retaliation” from their assailants – often people they knew – if law enforcement got involved.
“Making a police report was not an option,” Gonzales said. “They feel unempowered to make police reports because of the fear of retaliation, from being ostracized, and from the violence that could come (from) the assailant’s family to their family.”
The issue isn’t isolated to the reservation, however: Gonzales also pointed to nationwide statistics showing only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported nationwide.
WCC student Michael Barrow used his time in front of the committee to talk about what he called “deadly chemical abortion pills” which are “four times more dangerous for women than surgical abortions,” according to a PubMed study.
“These drugs can expose women to a laundry list of severe side effects, including abnormal bleeding months after taking the abortion pill, and infertility,” he said.
He was also concerned that “the abortion lobby will try to use chemical abortion pills to circumvent future abortion bans in the state.”
“This law will stop that from happening,” Barrow said, urging the committee to “stand up (for) the children who die from abortion each year in Wyoming.”
Christine Lichtenfels, a practicing attorney in Lander, offered a differing opinion, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Mifepristone U.S. Post-Marketing Adverse Events Summary, which indicates that mifepristone, one of the drugs identified in SF 109, has been found to be “very safe.”
“The percentage of any deaths (is) tiny,” she said. “Penicillin has a mortality rate significantly more, (and) likewise Viagra. Even hip replacement is many more times likely to result in death, and I don’t see the legislature trying to regulate hip replacement. …
“Safety of women does not support passing this bill.”
Lichtenfels also pushed back on the bill’s exception protecting women from criminal prosecution in cases of chemical abortions, which she said is “illusory.”
“It talks about (a) woman upon whom an abortion is performed or attempted in which a chemical abortion drug is used,” Lichtenfels said. “(But) an abortion is not performed on her – she actually takes the pills herself. So … an aggressive prosecutor could easily say, ‘No, she did it herself.’”
Plus, Lichtenfels said, the language protecting women from prosecution in SF 109 only applies to one subsection of the law.
“It does not exempt prosecution under other portions (which) fact do include the woman herself as being subject to prosecution … for up to 14 years,” she said. “So I believe that this supposed exemption would not necessarily be effective in exempting a woman who, on her own initiative, even with a physician’s prescription, takes the medication abortion pill. I’m very concerned about that.”
Salazar introduced SF 109 on the floor of the Wyoming Senate on Wednesday afternoon, reminding his colleagues that “almost half” of them co-sponsored the bill, which was approved by two-thirds of senators last year.
“I’m not here to try and change your views,” Salazar said. “I’m not here to ask you to do something differently than you did before. This is a bill that I bring forward because pro-life Wyoming wanted me to. I don’t know of a single pro-life organization in the state that does not support this.”
Several senators offered their comments on SF 109 during the floor debate, including Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, who, like Barrow and Lichtenfels, addressed the safety of chemical abortion drugs.
“It’s been represented that these drugs are dangerous and harmful, and they’re very safe – extremely safe,” Case said. “And when people represent that something is dangerous when it’s not, and say it over and over again … I don’t think that’s right.”
Case proposed an amendment to SF 109 on third reading Friday that would have removed one of the drugs mentioned in the bill, misoprostol, which he said “does not induce abortions,” according to the “physician who brought this to my attention.”
Wyoming Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, who is a physician assistant, agreed that “misoprostol is not used to take a life,” as it is used as “part of a regimen to complete an abortion” – but Wyoming Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, cited a Mayo Clinic article that states “misoprostol alone can be effective (for medical abortion) when used before nine weeks of gestation.”
“These drugs are used to take a human life,” Salazar said, speaking against Case’s amendment. “Each one of these drugs is used in the termination of a baby.”
Salazar also reiterated that SF 109 only prohibits using the drugs “for the purpose of procuring or performing an abortion.”
“These four drugs can be used any time except in the taking of a human life,” he said. “That’s all this bill does.”
Case’s proposed amendment failed 8-21, including a “no” vote from Wyoming Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, whose district includes a portion of Fremont County.
Cooper later offered comments on the bill itself, telling the story of a “young lady” he knew in the 1970s who “found herself in a bad situation that she didn’t want to be in.”
“She didn’t have a lot of alternatives,” he said. “She knew somebody that knew somebody … and four or five hours later she’s lying on an operating table (about) to bleed to death.”
The woman survived the ordeal, Cooper said, then killed herself years later “because she couldn’t accept what she did – there was no mental health available at that time for these situations.”
“I’m as pro-life as anybody in this room,” Cooper continued. “I’m kind of inclined to go with this bill. But my question right now is: Are we going back to the Dark Ages? My cattle, if I have a cow that’s struggling and going to be in trouble, I go down to my local vet to help her. … Am I going to give my cattle better health care than I give my daughter?”
Noting that “we can be very, very conservative and still be compassionate,” Cooper asked Salazar to explain “what are the alternatives to this?”
“Before we just say, ‘Absolutely no,’ what alternatives are available for the legal abortion that is still out there?” Cooper asked.
Hicks answered the question by pointing out that people seeking chemical abortions in Wyoming can find treatment “just about 10 miles south of us,” in Colorado.
“We travel all the time for health care,” he said. “It’s still available. It’s still out there. … You just may have to travel.”
SF 109 was received for introduction in the Wyoming House of Representatives on Friday.