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Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, listens to colleagues discuss a bill amendment during the 66th Wyoming Legislature's general session Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in the Senate chamber inside the state Capitol. The session, which the majority of legislators are attending in person, will run through Friday, April 2. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – A bill that would outlaw a handful drugs from being used in abortion procedures was advanced by a legislative committee Wednesday afternoon, despite concerns from some who testified about the constitutionality of the proposal.

Senate File 133, which the committee advanced by a 4-1 vote, would prohibit the use of several drugs, including mifepristone and misoprostol, that are commonly used for early-stage abortions. The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, told the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee that he believes those chemical abortions are “cruel and unusual.”

“I believe that we, as a state in Wyoming, have a responsibility to decide not only what we will and will not allow in the procedures of how you have an abortion, but also what procedures are either dangerous or gruesome,” Salazar said. “For the child, which I believe is a human life in that womb, chemical abortion is, in my opinion, a barbaric death sentence carried out by chemically induced starvation.”

During the meeting, several doctors spoke in opposition to the bill, raising questions about its potential consequences. Katie Noyes, a family physician based in Jackson, told the committee that the proposal would not reduce the demand for abortions, but simply shift where and how those procedures are carried out.

“Essentially, what this bill will do is harm Wyoming women by forcing them to travel farther, pay more (and) lose more work in order to obtain a desired abortion,” Noyes said.

To truly reduce the demand for abortions, Noyes said state lawmakers should be focused on education, public health and access to contraception. The Jackson physician also pushed back on Salazar’s claim that the drugs cause starvation, noting the procedure does not block blood flow to the uterus, but rather blocks a hormone that allows a pregnancy to grow – the same process that is used for some miscarriages.

If approved, the restriction on drug-induced abortions in Wyoming could face a challenge in the courts. Oklahoma, the only other state to adopt similar restrictions on abortifacients, had its law prohibiting access to most drug-induced abortions struck down by the state’s Supreme Court in 2019.

Sharon Breitweiser, representing NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, said the bill “would propose a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision, which is perhaps the intent of the bill.”

“The decision under Roe v. Wade specifically said that states cannot regulate abortion within the first trimester, that there is a right to privacy for the woman to obtain that procedure,” Breitweiser said.

In Wyoming, drug-induced abortions are typically done within 10 weeks of contraception, Breitweiser said, and she estimated that 99% of abortion procedures in Wyoming are done through those methods, rather than surgical procedures.

“If you were to pass this bill, and it were to go into effect, as you may know, it would pretty much eliminate every single abortion in Wyoming,” Breitweiser said.

Others questioned whether the bill, which includes a felony punishment of up to 14 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, could inadvertently effect other pregnancy procedures. Rene Hinkle, a Cheyenne-based OB-GYN who does not perform abortions, said miscarriages requiring the same medications could be impacted by the legislation as drafted.

“It’s going to be difficult for me to get those medications, even though that is a legal procedure,” Hinkle said. “And so, by making these particular medications illegal for abortion, that’s going to make it difficult for me to do my job. We see miscarriages every single day in our office.”

The legislation also drew some support during testimony, including from the group Wyoming Right to Life. Gillette resident Shannon Moodry emphasized the most important person impacted by the bill is “the baby in the womb.”

“If we’re supporting women’s rights, let’s support the most vulnerable woman in this discussion today, and that would be the one in the womb,” Moodry said.

The committee advanced SF 133 to the full Senate by a 4-1 vote. The only opposition came from committee chair Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, who said he had concerns about the legislation, despite his pro-life stance.

“This is a case where we would outlaw a procedure that does happen frequently at an OB-GYN office, and I think we would handicap them and tie their hands behind their backs significantly, to the point of the threat of 14 years in jail or a $10,000 fine is pretty significant,” Baldwin said. “This would significantly impair the health of that person that truly needs this drug, truly needs this to be done, and for that reason, I think that’s an important flaw in the bill. That is the sole reason that I’m voting no.”

Committee members discussed bringing an amendment to the Senate floor to clarify the prohibition on abortifacients would only apply to “viable” fetuses as a way to address Baldwin’s concerns.

The proposal is not the only abortion-related legislation before lawmakers during their in-person session. Senate File 34, which would require any physician performing an abortion to “take medically appropriate and reasonable steps to preserve the life and health of an infant born alive,” has cleared the Senate and awaits discussion in the House.

In the House, several bills aiming to restrict abortions in Wyoming, including one that would prohibit any procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, await a hearing in the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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