Two pro-life abortion bills passed by the Wyoming Legislature during its 2017 general session don’t seem like they’ll greatly affect women seeking the procedure in the state.
But that doesn’t mean local experts agree on whether the bills are a good step for women’s health care.
Gov. Matt Mead signed House Bill 182, which requires physicians to offer women who want an abortion the opportunity to have an ultrasound and hear a heartbeat, if one can be heard, and House Bill 116, which prohibits the sale and transport of fetal tissue from aborted fetuses.
Both bills become law on July 1. In 2014, the most recent data available, 120 in-clinic abortions occurred statewide. That’s down from 140 in 2013.
Dr. Brent Blue, the only Wyoming doctor who performs abortions and makes that service publicly known, thinks the bills “will do nothing to decrease the number of pregnancy terminations in the state of Wyoming,” but he isn’t happy with their passage.
That isn’t a sentiment shared by all.
“We are delighted that House Bill 182 was signed by Gov. Mead,” said Carolyn Warziniack, the interim director of Turning Point, a nonprofit pregnancy resource center on East Broadway.
Turning Point offers a variety of options, including a urine pregnancy test, limited obstetrical ultrasounds, information on parenting, adoption and abortion as well as classes for clients choosing to parent, pregnancy loss support and a post-abortion recovery program. Warziniack said the organization’s goal is to “educate and offer the best available information to help men and women with unplanned and planned pregnancies.”
Turning Point isn’t a medical facility and doesn’t offer or refer clients to a particular physician for abortions, but Warziniack said the facility is “committed to offering accurate information about abortion procedures and risks.”
The purpose of ultrasounds
Warziniack said Turning Point uses ultrasounds to confirm the pregnancy is located in the uterus, to detect fetal cardiac activity and to estimate age.
“As with other medical technology, ultrasounds provide information about the baby that enables a client to make a well-informed decision about their pregnancy,” Warziniack said. “We want women to be adequately informed and empowered to make the best decisions possible. With the ultrasound technology available we think it is prudent and responsible to require physicians to offer an ultrasound to a patient before an abortion is performed. In days past when ultrasounds were not available, perhaps the medical provider made the decision for the woman and her baby. Now women themselves have the information readily available to make their own decisions.”
Blue said his clinic also uses ultrasounds to confirm pregnancies.
“Patients can ask to see it,” he said. “We don’t hide it by any means. All they have to do is turn their head. It’s not changing our practice one iota.”
Blue questioned the enforcement piece of the bill.
“How are they going to enforce it?” he asked. “Are there going to be state inspectors in the room? I’m certainly not going to write anything in the medical notes that said they were offered or they looked at an ultrasound. That’s none of the government’s business, and I’m never going to write it down.”
What is government’s role?
Some pro-life Republican legislators, like House District 22 Rep. Marti Halverson, wore lapel pins the size and shape of the feet of a 10-week-old fetus during the legislative session to show their support for the right to life. The effort was called Precious Feet Fridays.
“Every life has value and is worth protecting,” Halverson said. “More than one million abortions are performed each year in the United States. Just like you and I, the unborn have the inalienable right to life. We will tirelessly defend the rights of the unborn in the Wyoming Legislature.”
Blue thinks the passage of HBs 182 and 116 are an overreach of the Legislature and called them “depressing.”
“Anything that is a hindrance to a woman obtaining health care with their physician being dictated by a legislature is absurd,” Blue said. “Should the government stop men from getting vasectomies? These are all ridiculous things for the government to get involved in. We are going backwards in time.”
Blue said such interference wouldn’t fly in other matters in the state.
“It’s like one cattle rancher telling another cattle rancher how to deal with antibiotics in their cows. That would be unheard of in this state. Now you’re telling a woman in a physician’s office what kind of care she should get. It certainly is a very sexist bill for a state that prides itself on equality.”
Warziniack didn’t see the bill as invasive.
“We in no way see this as government intrusion in the private relationship between a patient and their doctor,” Warziniack said. “Under the law the government already requires physicians to disclose the medical facts, purpose and technique of every medical procedure.”
Warziniack and Blue said they didn’t know of any fetal tissue from aborted fetuses being sold in the state. Selling fetal tissue is illegal in the United States. However, a woman’s consent to donate the tissue for research makes it legal.
Warziniack said Turning Point is “not aware of the sale of fetal tissue or body parts from an aborted fetus in the state of Wyoming.” Blue had stronger words, saying “it never happened anywhere.”
He was referring to undercover videos recorded by the Center for Medical Progress in 2015. The videos purported to show Planned Parenthood employees trying to sell fetal tissue.
Investigations followed. Center for Medical Progress employees were eventually indicted for their roles in the video, and no evidence was found that Planned Parenthood was selling or profiting from fetal tissue. Later analysis found the video to be edited.
“That’s the Legislature responding to fake news,” he said. “It shows the ignorance of the legislators. They are basically passing a law about something that never happened. ... It is an embarrassment for the state of Wyoming.”