CHEYENNE – A bill that would require a 48-hour waiting period before a woman could receive an abortion in Wyoming was advanced last Thursday afternoon by the House Judiciary Committee.
If House Bill 197 passes the full Legislature, Wyoming would join more than half the states in the U.S. that have some sort of waiting period before an abortion can be carried out.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Richard Tass, R-Buffalo, spoke first to the committee, arguing that the bill provided “a gift of time for the baby.”
“I’ve got letters from ladies who’ve had an abortion, and they’ve explained to me how the decision was made in haste,” Tass said. “If they had had time to just consider what would happen, they said they no doubt probably would’ve made a different decision.”
Responding to a question from Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, Tass said he wasn’t aware of any other medical procedures that have a statutory waiting period. He also was unsure of exactly how many abortions might be prevented by instituting such a waiting period.
“If we only save one life, to my thinking, it is worth it,” he said.
The bill received more than an hour of debate in the Feb. 13 committee meeting, with alternating testimony from those supporting and opposing the bill.
Rene Hinkle, an OB-GYN in Cheyenne, noted that the only two abortion providers in the state operate in Jackson. By requiring women to travel to Jackson and spend 48 hours there, “you’re basically making the procedure twice as expensive,” she said.
Others spoke from personal experience in favor of the legislation.
David Harney, of Sheridan, recalled a decision he made more than two decades ago when his 15-year-old daughter became pregnant. As the parental guardian, Harney made the decision for his daughter to get an abortion in Colorado.
“By the next day, I was feeling some regrets,” Harney said. “My feeling is if I’d had 48 hours that I was required to think about this, I may have started to have my regrets much sooner and made a different decision. Since that day, I’ve felt guilty of taking a life, and I don’t want to wish that on anyone.”
There were also questions raised about a section of the bill that would punish doctors who didn’t implement the waiting period with a felony carrying a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Sheila Bush, executive director of the Wyoming Medical Society, said her group takes no stance on abortion-related issues, but she said her 1,000-member group unanimously opposed penalizing physicians: “Regardless of your decision on this bill ... I would kindly ask you to take serious consideration of removal of the penalties,” she said.
However, lawmakers noted, similar punishments that could result in 14 years in prison were already in state statute.
Before the vote on HB 197, Pelkey proposed an amendment to eliminate both of those felony punishments from the proposal, but the amendment was overwhelmingly defeated.
Tass’ bill, along with a “heartbeat bill” making its way through the Senate, mark the first major abortion bills to come before the Wyoming Legislature since 2017, when lawmakers approved two abortion-related bills, one requiring doctors to tell women seeking abortions that they have the right to see a fetus ultrasound before going forward with the procedure, and another prohibiting the use of tissues from aborted fetuses for experimentation.
House Bill 197 passed the committee by a 6-3 vote. It will now go to the House floor for a broader discussion.