The governor of the US state of Wyoming has signed a bill banning abortion pills in the state and also allowed a separate measure restricting abortion to become law without his signature.
Governor Mark Gordon’s decision on Friday comes after the issue of access to abortion pills took centre stage this week in a Texas court. A federal judge there raised questions about a Christian group’s effort to overturn the decades-old United States’ approval of a leading abortion drug, mifepristone.
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The pills are already banned in 13 states with blanket bans on all forms of abortion, and 15 states already have limited access to abortion pills.
Medication abortions became the preferred method for ending pregnancies in the US even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, the ruling that protected the right to abortion for nearly 50 years. A two-pill combination of mifepristone and another drug is the most common form of abortion in the US.
Wyoming’s ban on abortion pills would take effect in July, pending any legal action that could delay that. The implementation date of the sweeping legislation banning all abortions that Gordon allowed to go into law is not specified in the bill.
In a statement, Gordon expressed concern that the latter law, dubbed the Life is a Human Right Act, would 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 a continuing lawsuit filed a challenge to the new law in the event he did not issue a veto.
“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,” Gordon, a Republican, said in a statement.
‘Health, not politics’
In a statement, Wyoming American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Advocacy Director Antonio Serrano criticised Gordon’s decision to sign the bill.
“A person’s health, not politics, should guide important medical decisions – including the decision to have an abortion,” Serrano said.
Of the 15 states that have limited access to the pills, six require an in-person physician visit. Those laws could withstand court challenges; states have long had authority over how physicians, pharmacists and other providers practise medicine.
States also set the rules for telemedicine consultations used to prescribe medications. Generally, that means health providers in states with restrictions on abortion pills could face penalties, such as fines or licence suspension, for trying to send pills through the mail.
Women have already been travelling across state lines to places where abortion pill access is easier. That trend is expected to increase.
Since the reversal of Roe last June, abortion restrictions have been up to states, and the landscape has shifted quickly. Thirteen states are now enforcing bans on abortion at any point in pregnancy, and one more, Georgia, bans it once cardiac activity can be detected or at about six weeks’ gestation.
Courts have put on hold enforcement of abortion bans or deep restrictions in Arizona, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming. Idaho courts have forced the state to allow abortions during medical emergencies.
Gordon, the Wyoming governor, said he would not back down in the fight against abortion.
“I believe all life is sacred and that every individual, including the unborn, should be treated with dignity and compassion,” Gordon said in a letter on Friday evening to the secretary of state.