CHEYENNE – A bill requiring medical care be provided to any infant born alive after an attempted abortion – or have the doctor and parent face a potential felony for failing to comply – won final approval Wednesday afternoon from the state House of Representatives.
Under Senate File 97, which already won approval from its originating chamber, doctors would be required to “take medically appropriate and reasonable steps to preserve the life and health of an infant born alive” in an abortion procedure or face the possibility of up to 14 years in prison.
There is momentum building nationwide for such requirements. Other states like Arkansas, Alabama and North Carolina have proposed similar bills during their legislative sessions this year. At the federal level, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has proposed legislation imposing similar requirements, though his bill’s punishment of up to five years in prison is less punitive than the one proposed for Wyoming.
The House overwhelmingly supported the bill by a 44-16 vote, but lawmakers first debated several amendments, including one to reduce the penalty for doctors and parents.
Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, who voted in favor of the bill, offered the amendment to lower the penalty for doctors and parents to a misdemeanor of no more than a year in prison or a $1,000 fine. Yet others felt the lower penalty wouldn’t provide enough punishment if the law were violated.
“If you have a baby that is born alive that is viable, that should be charged with a felony, because you actually tried to abort a viable baby,” said Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette. “We’re talking about a botched abortion, a baby that is born alive, and we’re not going to give it any treatment, and the worst that doctor is going to get is (a) $1,000 (fine).”
Other lawmakers argued the legislation could deter Wyoming’s attempts to draw new medical professionals to the state.
“We need to be cautious in a state where we are having problems attracting enough physicians to serve, especially in our rural areas,” said Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson.
Barlow also proposed an amendment getting rid of language that some argued made the bill confusing. The bill’s language includes two different terms – “commonly accepted means of care” and “medically appropriate and reasonable steps” – that doctors would have to abide by when providing care to a born-alive infant. Barlow’s amendment would have gotten rid of the “commonly accepted means of care” standard, which the representative argued took away from the legal consistency in state statutes.
“I would like to have one sentences that says everything we’re trying to say, instead of two sentences that say something that seems to me to be different, because there are different (qualifiers) for those,” Barlow said. “I understand this touches people’s hearts … but let’s get the law right, because when we leave, the green books stay.”
Ultimately, the amendments from Barlow were narrowly defeated by a majority of the House.
While the bill appears likely to become law, another abortion-related proposal failed to make it through the Capitol. House Bill 197 would have instituted a 48-hour waiting period before a woman could receive an abortion following a meeting with her doctor, but the legislation failed after never being considered by a Senate committee.
After gaining the approval of both the House and Senate, SF 97 will need to win a concurrence vote before heading to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk for consideration.