Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon has signed a new law that specifically bans abortion pills, making it the first explicit ban on such pills since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. The Republican governor signed the bill on March 11, while allowing another measure restricting abortion to become law without his signature. This marks a major turning point in the abortion debate in the United States.
Previously, 13 states had blanket bans on all forms of abortion, while 15 states had limited access to abortion pills. However, until now, no state had passed a law specifically prohibiting such pills, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Medication abortions have become the preferred method for ending pregnancy in the U.S., and a two-pill combination of mifepristone and another drug is the most common form of abortion in the country.
The new law in Wyoming will take effect in July, but any legal action could potentially delay its implementation. The implementation date of the sweeping legislation banning all abortions that Governor Gordon allowed to go into law is not specified in the bill.
With the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the issue of access to abortion pills has taken center stage in the United States. A federal judge in Texas recently raised questions about a Christian group’s effort to overturn the decades-old U.S. approval of a leading abortion drug, mifepristone. This issue has also led to legal challenges in other states, including Arizona, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah, and Idaho.
Women have been traveling across state lines to places where abortion pill access is easier, and this trend is expected to increase. States have long had authority over how physicians, pharmacists, and other providers practice medicine, and they also set the rules for telemedicine consultations used to prescribe medications. In states with restrictions on abortion pills, health providers could face penalties, such as fines or license suspension, for trying to send pills through the mail.
Opponents of the new law argue that it would eradicate access to basic health care, including safe, effective medication abortion. A group seeking to open an abortion and women’s health clinic in Casper said it was evaluating legal options. The clinic, which a firebombing prevented from opening last year, is one of two nonprofits suing to block an earlier Wyoming abortion ban. No arrests have been made, and organizers say the clinic is tentatively scheduled to open in April, depending on abortion’s legal status in Wyoming at that time.
Governor Gordon expressed concern that the sweeping legislation banning all abortions could result in a lawsuit that will “delay any resolution to the constitutionality of the abortion ban in Wyoming.” He noted that earlier in the day, plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit filed a challenge to the new law in the event he did not issue a veto.
The debate over abortion has intensified in the United States since the reversal of Roe v. Wade in June. Thirteen states now enforce bans on abortion at any point in pregnancy, and another state, Georgia, bans it once cardiac activity can be detected, or at about six weeks’ gestation.
The governor’s decision to sign the ban on abortion pills has drawn criticism from the Wyoming ACLU advocacy director Antonio Serrano, who said that “a person’s health, not politics, should guide important medical decisions — including the decision to have an abortion.”
It remains to be seen how this new law will play out in Wyoming and other states. The issue of access to abortion pills is likely to remain at the forefront of the national debate on reproductive rights.