Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) late Friday signed into law a ban on abortion pills, as the state adopted what appears to be the nation’s first such state law.
The new law says that it will be “unlawful to prescribe, dispense, distribute, sell or use any drug for the purpose of procuring or performing an abortion.”
The law includes penalties of up to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $9,000. But it exempts people who take abortion pills from criminal liability. It also allows drugs to be used in case they are needed to treat “natural miscarriages.”
Medication-induced abortions, which account for about half of U.S. abortions, have become increasingly contentious since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, leaving individual states free to outlaw abortion.
Abortion rights advocates expressed dismay. “A person’s health, not politics, should guide important medical decisions — including the decision to have an abortion,” said Antonio Serrano, an advocacy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming.
Gordon said he inked the bill because it bolsters “protections for the unborn.” Wyoming had also enacted a trigger ban on nearly all abortions last year, though that case is pending before a judge, who has halted its enforcement.
Gordon said he let another antiabortion bill, House Enrolled Act 88, become law without his signature. That bill toughens bans against using state government-appropriated funds for abortion, among other measures.
This second bill also bans the distribution or sale of antiabortion pills. But it proposes penalties of up to $20,000, five years in prison, or both. Gordon said the discrepancies in the two bills’ punishment clauses could prove to be problematic. “I must presume the Legislature understood that these inconsistencies could create confusion regarding restrictions on abortion,” as both bills were approved by state lawmakers, he said.
These new laws are likely to be challenged in court, Gordon said.
Gordon urged a state referendum on abortion. “I believe this question needs to be decided as soon as possible so that the issue of abortion in Wyoming can be finally resolved, and that is best done with a vote of the people,” he said.
Fifteen other states specifically restrict access to medication abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for better access to reproductive care.
The new laws come as a federal judge in Texas is overseeing a lawsuit over mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medical abortions. That judge said he would issue a ruling as soon as possible, potentially disrupting access to it, even in states where abortion is protected. His decision will probably be appealed to a federal appeals court and later, the Supreme Court, The Washington Post reported.
That judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, a devout Christian, appears open to the claim that mifepristone, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration, was not properly vetted before being released to the public.
Medication abortions often involve a two-step process. The first pill, mifepristone, is designed to terminate a pregnancy. A second drug, misoprostol, expels the embryo or fetus. Misoprostol is used on its own to perform abortions around the world but is not as effective as when taken with mifepristone, The Post reported.