Health Care

Wyoming legislature passes abortion medication ban

The bill would make it illegal to prescribe, dispense, sell, use, distribute, or manufacture medications for the purpose of performing an abortion. 
Bottles of the drug misoprostol sit on a table at the West Alabama Women’s Center on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

Wyoming is set to ban abortion-inducing medications, an issue on the frontline of the national battle over reproductive rights in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

After the state House passed it Wednesday, the Senate cleared a bill Thursday that would make it illegal to prescribe, dispense, sell, use, distribute, or manufacture medications for the purpose of performing an abortion.

Republican lawmakers in Iowa and Missouri are pushing similar measures, as anti-abortion advocates have turned to state legislatures and federal courts to ban or restrict access to medication that accounts for more than half of the abortions in the United States.

“Wyoming’s bill is a major step forward for the health and safety of women and girls,” said Kelsey Pritchard, state affairs communications director for SBA Pro-Life America, a national group that advocates for state abortion restrictions.

Anti-abortion groups have sought to portray the use of medication to induce abortion as unsafe. That argument has faced resistance from medical professionals and even some on the right, who point out that the two drugs most commonly used in tandem to induce abortions — mifepristone and misoprostol — are also used for routine medical procedures and worry that efforts to restrict them could interfere with patient care.

The Food and Drug Administration says mifepristone and misoprostol can be safely used together to terminate a pregnancy up to 10 weeks.

Medication is currently the only way to get an abortion in Wyoming without crossing state lines. Abortion rights advocates said the ban would cause confusion about how to obtain care and potentially deter people from seeking care out of state or online.

“Given that medication abortion is safe and effective, this is clearly an attack on people’s ability to make life decisions for themselves and their families,” said Elizabeth Nash, principal policy associate for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that advocates for abortion rights.

A Wyoming law banning all abortions except in cases of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother was blocked by the state court over questions of whether it violates provisions in the state constitution, including a 2012 amendment guaranteeing adults the right to make their own health care decisions.

But a stricter ban, which would not include exceptions, is headed to the governor’s desk after passing both chambers of the legislature. It cleared a final vote in the House on Thursday.

The ban on medication abortions would make violations by physicians or others a misdemeanor and would impose punishments of up to 6 months in prison or a $9,000 fine. It exempts abortion patients from criminal prosecution and would not apply to contraceptives, treatment for “natural miscarriage,” treatment necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother, and cases of rape or incest.

State Rep. Karlee Provenza (D) said both the medication ban and the new, stricter abortion ban would be subject to the same constitutional challenge.

Only two states, Texas and Indiana, have broad abortion bans that specifically mention abortion-inducing medication and have not been blocked by courts, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Louisiana enacted an indirect ban on medication abortion when it required all fetal tissue to be buried or cremated. That restriction was revised the following year to apply to fetal tissue collected at the clinic.

Twenty-nine states require physicians to administer abortion-inducing medication. Eighteen states require the clinician providing a medication abortion to be physically present when the medication is administered, effectively prohibiting the use of telemedicine to prescribe medication for abortion.

Criminal charges for women who use medications to induce abortions are rare. But in a report that abortion rights advocates described as chilling, a South Carolina woman was charged this week for taking medication to induce an abortion when she was 25 weeks pregnant in 2021. The state currently bans abortions after 22 weeks, prohibits using medication to self-manage an abortion, and requires abortion medication to be provided in person.

Anti-abortion groups and Republican officials have launched a number of legal challenges to restrict access to mifepristone. A federal judge in Texas is expected to issue a ruling any day in a lawsuit brought by several anti-abortion groups and doctors against the FDA that seeks to halt nationwide distribution of the drug.

More than 20 Republican attorneys general signed on to a letter in February threatening CVS and Walgreens, the country’s largest pharmacy retailers, with legal action if they fill prescriptions for abortion pills through the mail. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) filed a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s July guidance that directed pharmacies to fill prescriptions for abortion-inducing medications.

Democratic attorneys general in 12 states sued the FDA last week to ease access to mifepristone.