By Kate Ready
Jackson Hole Daily
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — With a Dec. 14 hearing fast approaching, both sides in a closely watched legal fight over abortion access in Wyoming agree on one thing: pressing ahead.
“This case needs to get decided and we need to move it forward,” said Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde, who is defending two laws passed by the state Legislature. One is a general ban on abortions with some exceptions and the other outlaws medication abortions.
Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Melissa Owens asked the parties Thursday if an upcoming Dec. 14 summary judgment hearing should be postponed, pending a Wyoming Supreme Court hearing scheduled just two days earlier.
The state’s highest court is deciding whether two lawmakers and an advocacy group can intervene in the abortion case. Owens denied the proposed intervenors’ request, and they have appealed that denial.
One hour has been set aside for oral arguments from Tim Garrison, an attorney for the conservative Christian legal advocacy group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing state Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody; state Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett; and Right to Life of Wyoming. The new speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, previously worked as an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Owens denied the proposed intervenors’ request June 2, stating their right to advocate anti-abortion laws was not hindered by being blocked from intervening in this case.
They could put the issue to voters directly in the form of a constitutional amendment, she stated. Secretary of State Chuck Gray also requested to intervene in the Teton County court case but did not appeal the denial.
The Wyoming Supreme Court is not expected to rule from the bench Dec. 12 but rather issue a decision in writing at a later date.
“If the intervenors are approved, are we now entering into a phase of new motions for summary judgment? Are we having a redo on our hearing?” Owens asked Thursday, adding that she was concerned about both the parties and the court wasting their time.
“What if we have to do this all again?” she asked.
John Robinson, an attorney for the six plaintiffs, joined Jerde in fighting to keep the Dec. 14 summary judgment hearing as scheduled.
“I know that we were waiting for a motion,” Robinson said, to pause the case while the appeal was being decided.
“We thought that might be filed by the proposed intervenors,” Robinson said. “When that wasn’t, I think that ship sailed. I think we’re obligated to march forward. If the Supreme Court reverses, then we deal with it.”
Owens decided to keep the Dec. 14 hearing as scheduled, unless the parties hear otherwise Dec. 12 from the higher court.
Robinson, along with three other attorneys, is representing two women, two doctors and two nonprofits. The group is suing the state, Gov. Mark Gordon and the attorney general, as well as the Teton County sheriff and Jackson police chief, who would be tasked with enforcing the new laws.
Cheyenne attorney Thomas Szott also attended Thursday’s status conference. Szott filed an amicus brief Oct. 16 on behalf of four Wyoming physicians, two retired and two active. An amicus brief, translating to “friend of the court,” is not a request to become a formal party to the case, but simply a wish for the court to hear their views.
The OB-GYNs wrote that they act under a “two patient paradigm,” where the unborn also qualifies as their patient. Abortion “on demand” is therefore not essential healthcare, they argue. The amicus brief further alleges that the plaintiffs seeking to overturn the bans are pushing for a “one patient paradigm” that would “radically change obstetric practice in Wyoming.”
“However, the Plaintiffs’ one-patient paradigm is not based on medical evidence or reality,” the amended brief filed Nov. 9 states. “Instead, it rests upon the ideological conclusion that abortion and childbirth are comparable outcomes because the unborn child has no relevance to the physician’s treatment recommendations.”
Likewise, Jerde has argued on the state’s behalf that abortion isn’t health care and the decision to get an abortion isn’t a woman’s “own” health care decision because it affects another person.
It’s not clear what Owens will do with the physicians’ brief. The plaintiffs have requested 20 days to file a response to it.