Wyoming committee votes down abortion bill

By By BEN NEARY

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A bill that would have banned abortions in Wyoming after a fetus had developed a detectable heartbeat failed Monday in a legislative committee.

The House Labor Health and Social Services on Monday voted 5-to-3 against a bill sponsored by Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville.

Experts say that the bill would have banned abortions after about the sixth week of pregnancy. Abortions currently are available to women in the state until about the 19th week.

The proposal brought more than two hours of frequently emotional testimony from both supporters and opponents.

Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, told the committee that she decided to have an abortion after her first marriage dissolved. She said she faced the prospect of losing custody of her three children if she underwent what promised to be a difficult pregnancy.

"The notion that protected human life begins at the moment of conception is some religious sects' interpretation, certainly not mine," Wallis said.

No other person, not even a woman's husband, has a right to dictate to a woman what she does with her body, Wallis said. "That is a fundamental tenant of freedom."

Maggie Moran, president of a student group called "Speak Out" at the University of Wyoming, warned that the bill was extreme and would outlaw all abortions. "This bill is catering to a very small group of extremists in this state," she said.

Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said she was concerned that the bill was unconstitutionally vague. Throne, a lawyer, noted that the bill would impose up to a 14-year prison sentence on anyone who performed abortions after the fetus' heartbeat was detectable, but noted that particular moment could vary depending on what sort of medical equipment was used.

Several people testified that they believed the bill was unconstitutional given the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in the Roe vs. Wade case that generally held abortion to be legal.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Mike Baker, R-Rock Springs, said he wasn't swayed by arguments that the bill was unconstitutional. "We are representing the people of Wyoming, and we decide what laws to pass," he said.

"People to the state south of us, decide they want to legalize marijuana, that's their choice," Baker said. "We want to make abortion illegal, that's our choice."

Elizabeth Hoy, health policy officer in Gov. Matt Mead's office, questioned whether the bill would force women to carry fetuses to term even if they knew the fetus had a genetic abnormality that would make it incapable of living outside the womb.

Taylor Haynes, a surgeon who testified in favor of the bill, responded that it would require a woman to carry such unviable fetuses to term.

Before the committee took a final vote on the bill, it adopted an amendment proposed by Chairman Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, to grant an exception allowing abortion for women carrying fetuses that were not viable.

Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, spoke in favor of the bill before the committee's final vote. "I just think that I have to stand up and defend that individual who is innocent, above all innocence, and hasn't got a way to defend himself," he said.

Harvey, Larsen and Rep. Kathy Coleman, R-Sheridan voted for the bill. Reps. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette; Lee Filer, D-Cheyenne; Matt Greene, R-Laramie; Norine Kasperik, R-Gillette; and Throne voted against it.

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