If my Uncle Joe were still around, there would be no need to worry about the availability of banned products in Northern Wyoming. My uncle John Joseph Carey was a respected businessman, a Packard dealer, hotel owner, and Elks’ Club member in Greybull, Wy., an oil-boom railroad town close to the Montana border.
But when the Volstead Act made alcohol illegal on January 17, 1920, Uncle Joe set out to ensure the town would not go thirsty. He drove his top-of-the-line Packard to Canada and returned with enough booze to keep the populace happy for months.
Today there may be need for a more essential banned product: abortion pills. On March 17, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed a first-in-the-nation law, making abortion pills illegal. At the same time, Gordon allowed an abortion ban, the second such prohibition passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature, to become law without his signature. The law banning mifepristone and misoprostol (the abortion pills) is scheduled to go into effect in July. Violations will be treated as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $9,000.
Events are happening fast in Wyoming. Abortion is still legal — temporarily. On March 2, Teton County District Court Melissa Owens blocked the abortion ban that took effect only days earlier. It was the second time that Judge Owens had taken that action. She put the first such ban on hold last summer.
The new abortion ban was written by Wyoming lawmakers to overcome Judge Owens’ earlier objections and to subvert the amendment in the Wyoming Constitution that says that adults have a right to make their own health-care decisions. In response, the Wyoming lawmakers passed a bill with an Orwellian twist. It states that “abortion is not health care.”
This week, Judge Owens reaffirmed that “the state cannot legislate away a constitutional right.” She added that it’s not clear whether abortion is health care, but she said that decision should be decided by the court, not the legislature. Lawyers for the nonprofits and doctors who have sued to block Wyoming’s broader abortion ban pointed out the absurdity of claiming abortion is not health care in one bill but does amount to health care in the statute that bans abortion pills.
If this all makes you dizzy, it’s not surprising. It is difficult to keep track of the many ways state lawmakers, governors, and attorneys general work to go beyond the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade. The anti-abortion crowd — Republican-dominated and mostly white male — have been outdoing themselves with their aggressive tactics. It is not enough to ban abortions. Instead this mob competes at crafting legislation to deny medication, criminalize care givers, and provide incentives to would-be vigilantes.
How far will anti-abortion advocates go? Well, there’s a recent case in Texas involving an about-to-be ex-husband, Marcus Silva, who has filed a lawsuit against two of his estranged wife’s women friends. The friends recently helped the divorcing wife obtain abortion pills, illegal in Texas. Silva is represented by the solicitor general who crafted SB-8, the law that allows any citizen to sue over an abortion and collect a bounty. However Silva has filed his case not under SB-8, but as a wrongful death lawsuit seeking $1 million from each of the women. His suit carries the presumption of fetal personhood and all the rights that would confer. The Silva case is yet another instance of men exercising patriarchal privilege, seeking control over women.
Fifteen states already have limited some access to pills which figure in more than half the abortions performed in the U.S. last year. (Those bans seemingly ignore that one of the medications they’re targeting, mifepristone, is being used for other conditions such as Cushing’s disease, certain cancers and PTSD).
Perhaps even more worrisome is that Texas judge, Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee who has written critically about Roe v Wade, is now considering a case that could ban mifepristone throughout the entire U.S., even in states like Washington where abortion is currently legal.
Meanwhile, it is sadly ironic that Wyoming should be an abortion-banning battleground. The state has long flaunted its early recognition of women’s suffrage. Featured foremost on the state seal is Lady Justice in front of a banner that reads “Equal Rights.” Wyomingites liked to brag about being the earliest territory to grant women the right to vote in 1870 and after admission to the union in 1890, the first U. S. state to do so. In fact, the state’s nickname is “the Equality State.”
How tragic and ironic that today Wyoming is gaining new fame as the first state to ban abortion pills and to declare openly that women do not have a right to make their own health-care decisions.