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Wyoming Judge Blocks State’s Ban on Abortion Medication

No other state has an explicit ban on abortion medication, which is the most-used abortion method in the U.S.

Misoprostol tablets are displayed at a family planning clinic on April 13, 2023, in Rockville, Maryland.

A judge in Wyoming has blocked the enforcement of a ban on abortion medication in the state, pending the results of a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban.

Teton County Judge Melissa Owens established the temporary injunction on Thursday, stating that plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state “have clearly [shown] probable success” regarding the legal merits of their case. The judge’s decision renders the law — the first of its kind, banning the most widely used method of abortion in the U.S. — unenforceable for the duration of the trial.

Four women, two obstetricians and two nonprofit groups are among those suing the state over the law, which forbids the use of medication to induce an abortion. The plaintiffs had also filed a lawsuit against the state’s near-total ban on abortion, which became law in March. Owens has also blocked enforcement of that statute, combining the two separate lawsuits into one singular case.

In their arguments, the plaintiffs cited the Wyoming state constitution, which includes a provision passed by voters in 2012 that forbids governments from interfering with residents’ health care choices. That resolution was promoted by Republican lawmakers in response to unwarranted fears about the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Earlier this year, Owens also blocked a law that banned nearly all abortions in Wyoming, citing that same state constitutional amendment as rationale for doing so. GOP lawmakers in the state seemed to recognize, even in crafting the anti-abortion statutes, that the amendment could be used to block their draconian policies, writing in that abortion law an explicit command that abortion isn’t health care — a blatant attempt to circumvent the amendment’s scope.

During the hearing on Thursday, lawyers for the state tried to make the same failing argument, with special assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde arguing before the judge that abortion isn’t health care because “it’s not restoring the [person’s] body from pain, physical disease or sickness.”

But Owens questioned that narrative, noting that the decision on whether or not to get an abortion was being made by the government, “which is what the overwhelming majority in Wyoming decided” against in 2012 by endorsing the amendment provision.

Health experts largely agree that abortion does fall under the purview of health care, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

While most Americans support abortion rights, residents of Wyoming have historically been more split on the issue. Most, however, do not favor a complete ban on the procedure.

In a poll conducted by the University of Wyoming last fall — just months after the Supreme Court upended abortion protections that were established in Roe v. Wade — 36 percent of respondents said abortion should be a personal choice, while another 36 percent said exceptions should be made in certain circumstances, such as in cases of rape or incest. Only 11 percent of respondents said they supported a complete ban on abortion in the state.

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