Wyoming doctors call for judge to uphold state’s abortion ban
As the state’s near-total abortion ban nears its day in court later this year, a group of Wyoming doctors have come out in support of the recent law, titled the Life is a Human Right Act.
A Teton County judge has halted it from going into effect until at least December 14, when abortion access advocates and opponents will make their case in court.
The act was passed by state lawmakers last spring, and the governor allowed it to become law without his signature. It makes it illegal to provide an abortion in most cases, except in instances of reported sexual assault or incest, or when specific medical procedures are needed to save a pregnant person’s life.
In a proposed amicus brief filed recently in Teton County court, a group of doctors stated the new law “allows physicians to provide life-preserving treatment for pregnant women experiencing dangerous physical complications of pregnancy, while simultaneously offering many unborn babies a chance to survive.”
‘First, do no harm’
The group of doctors includes two active OB/GYNs in Cheyenne, Samantha Michelena and Michael Nelson, in addition to two Wyoming residents who retired from the practice, Timothy Hallman and David Lind.
None of the physicians responded to requests to comment in time for publication, and their lawyer, Thomas Szott, declined an interview.
But Szott wrote in the filing that the doctors adhere to the medical oath “First, do no harm.” He said they “oppose abortion on demand and believe no Wyoming physician has the professional duty to harm an unborn baby or any other patient.”
The doctors argue, in addition to the pregnant person, the “unborn baby” is also their patient — and their job is to “maximize the health and chances of survival for both patients.”
The group wrote that the state’s ban isn’t perfect — not specifying in what way — but said it gives doctors the freedom to terminate pregnancies in certain cases, such as ectopic or molar pregnancies, and exercise medical judgment.
Teton County OB/GYN Giovannina Anthony, one of the only abortion providers in the state, who says she believes women should always have the right to choose, called the doctors’ argument “ironic.”
“It doesn’t respect my medical judgment at all,” she said. “In fact, it will put me in jail if I, with good conscience, use appropriate, honest, evidence-based medical judgment in my treatment of a patient.”
Under the act, providers who violate the law could be charged with a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $20,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both.
Anthony said the group of doctors are “in the minority” in her field.
“They’re on the wrong side of medical ethics,” said Anthony, who’s part of the group suing the state to protect abortion access. “They’re on the wrong side of medical judgment. They’re on the wrong side of real, everyday obstetric care in Wyoming and in the country.”
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, has stated abortion is an “essential component of comprehensive medical care” and that around 95% of doctors in the field have said they would help a patient in need of an abortion in some way, regardless of their personal feelings.
Anthony also pointed to the use of the term “unborn babies” in the doctors’ arguments — a phrase the state’s attorney has also used repeatedly in defending the abortion bans. She said it’s an attempt to give personhood to fetuses, which is not currently granted in Wyoming.
“In the 30 years that I have been practicing in obstetrics and gynecology, my colleagues in multiple states … never used those terms,” Anthony said. “So right there, that tells me this is an ideological argument that they’re making.”
This isn’t the first time the state of Wyoming has had to defend an abortion ban. Lawmakers passed another one last year, which was also blocked in Teton County. Idaho also passed a near-total abortion ban in 2022, and this year criminalized helping minors travel out-of-state for abortions.
Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens could make a decision about the future of abortion rights at the mid-December hearing. Both parties have motioned for summary judgment, which would let them reach a final decision, without going to trial.
If abortion is outlawed in Wyoming, access will be restricted in a large swath of the Mountain West.
This story from KHOL was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.