The imminent overturn of Roe v. Wade hits home in Albany County
Residents have sought abortions to avoid or delay motherhood. They say abortion access made them happier and healthier, and that the repeal of that right would cause suffering and death.
A leaked draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed what observers have suspected for a while — that the landmark 1973 case establishing abortion access as a fundamental right will likely soon be overturned.
Overturning Roe v. Wade would not outlaw abortion nationwide, but throwing it out would pave the way for red states eager to ban the medical procedure.
In Wyoming — and at least 12 other states — overturning Roe v. Wade would trigger a change to state law, automatically outlawing most abortion procedures.
Residents of Albany County are already accustomed to traveling out-of-state for abortion-related care. But the criminalization of most abortion within the state’s borders could limit a new clinic in Casper and represent a new front in the fight over reproductive rights.
For Elizabeth Hiatt, an Albany County resident and mother, the Supreme Court leak is already impacting her life. Hiatt said she’s not sure if she and her husband will keep trying for a second child.
“Say that something goes horrifically wrong — I don’t know if I feel comfortable in an environment where they might say, ‘Well, we can’t treat you because that might be an abortion,’” Hiatt said. “I’m not willing to die for an unviable pregnancy. And as a parent, in particular, I’m really not willing to die even for a viable pregnancy because I have my entire family relying on me. So this absolutely changes how I feel about my plans for my life right now.”
‘I never regretted that decision. It was the right one for me. My body was very much hijacked.’
Albany County, like most of Wyoming’s 23 counties, has no abortion clinic. The closest — Planned Parenthood’s Fort Collins Health Center — is 60 miles south and across the Colorado state border.
That’s where Alex went for both of their abortions. Alex’s name has been changed to protect them from the stigmatization they might experience if their family and neighbors learned of their abortion. Alex is an Albany County resident, who found themselves pregnant after a casual encounter sometime before their 21st birthday.
Alex first sought out local help, at Laramie’s Heart 2 Heart Pregnancy Resource Center. Pregnancy resource centers are not abortion clinics, and in fact, attempt to steer women away from seeking abortion. They are generally religiously affiliated — the local center’s website says it’s “Christian” — and have been criticized by reproductive health experts and even John Oliver.
Alex did not appreciate their visit to Heart 2 Heart about a decade ago.
“The experience there was bizarre,” they said. “I had no idea who or what Heart to Heart was. I walked in there like, ‘I’m going to get an abortion, but I need to confirm I’m pregnant, guys.’ They handed me a rose and said, ‘Every mother deserves a rose.’ That was the first thing they did after I introduced myself.”
Alex, who had arrived alone, said they were encouraged to return with the man who got them pregnant. When Alex did, they received another rose and were told that most women regretted their abortions. (Research published since Alex’s visit shows that almost all women who get abortions feel it was the right decision for them.)
“They had someone come in and talk with me for a very long time,” Alex said. “I felt very trapped in that room; I felt like I wasn’t allowed to leave. And they told me about all of the resources they would give me if I was to bring the pregnancy to term. It was not unbiased. They have an agenda and their agenda is to prevent as many abortions as possible.”
Alex said they would have felt more pressured if they did not already have such a strong pro-abortion rights conviction.
“I’m really glad 20-year-old me was wiser than that,” they said.
The Laramie Reporter attempted to confirm elements of Alex’s experience at Heart 2 Heart. The local center directs media inquiries to its national affiliate, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which did not respond to the Laramie Reporter’s emailed questions.
Alex had a better experience in Fort Collins, traveling there soon after with a friend.
“The nurse at Planned Parenthood is one of my heroes,” they said. “Even though I was very pro-choice, I still judged myself pretty harshly for my situation. And she eased that so much. She took a moment to tell me that the situation I was in was normal and not a moral failure. And offered to provide me with birth control of my choice and gave me very informed options as to what I could do if I wanted to continue to be sexually active and prevent pregnancy in the future. She made me so comfortable there.”
Alex said the procedure itself was “quick, painless and professional.” The experience made it easier for Alex to come back two years later, when they needed another abortion. Looking back years later, having carried on with life, having discovered they were nonbinary, Alex believes those two abortions dramatically improved the quality of their life, having offered them both a general freedom and a way out of the body dysmorphia caused by pregnancy.
“I never once was sad,” they said. “I never regretted that decision. It was the right one for me. My body was very much hijacked. It wasn’t my own. The (second) procedure was more or less the same: professional, quick, painless. This time around, I was elated to be there, to do that.”
Colorado does not have a trigger law in place, so if and when the Supreme Court officially strikes down Roe v. Wade, Fort Collins will still be an option for Albany County residents.
But that’s a cold comfort to people like Alex, who see the scope of their reproductive rights shrinking around them. With abortion less accessible, they are concerned about the return of “back-alley abortions” and all the children who will be born into poverty when their parents are unable to delay parenthood.
For Alex, parenthood would have been a life sentence.
“If I had been given no choice but to bring a life into the world, I could potentially have a kid who’s about to be a teenager right now,” they said. “And I have zero desire to bring more lives into this world because I have personal concerns over where we’re headed as a society, as a planet with the climate crisis. I’d be terrified about what their adult life is going to be like when they are robbed of their planet and their futures, with the way things might be headed.”
‘If there was literally no legal access in the United States, I think that I would probably have been willing to try some pretty dangerous things’
Most abortion-seekers, however, are mothers. Almost 60 percent of those seeking abortions are already mothers and an overwhelming majority are low or extremely low income who do not have paid maternity leave and who cannot afford childcare.
“If you’re someone who is living in poverty and you say, ‘Can you afford one more mouth to feed? Can you afford one more daycare bill? Can you afford another six weeks off of work?’ — No, you can’t. It’s just too much,” Hiatt said. “It’s too much to manage. And the idea that people decide to have an abortion because they’re selfish or because they never want to be mothers — it’s just factually untrue.”
Hiatt was not a mother yet when she first became pregnant in her early 20s, but she did not want to raise a child in poverty.
“Having a child was just really not feasible for us at that time,” she said. “We were both in school. I came from poverty as my childhood background and I knew that I didn’t want to raise a child of my own in that situation. So we made a decision to have an abortion.”
It was an emotionally difficult time, Hiatt said, but they made the right call — for themselves, and for the family they now have.
“I feel like I absolutely did make the right decision for my life — and I can say that still married to the same partner,” she said. “We have a child together that we absolutely adore. Looking back on it, even though it was really difficult at the time, I don’t have any regrets. I don’t think it was at all the wrong decision for me. I just wish that maybe it had been easier to access.”
Hiatt said her four-year-old child has a better life today because of the abortion access she had a decade ago.
“As a mother myself, I feel just as strongly that you should not have to be pregnant unless you want to be,” she said. “Because it is such a difficult process, it’s so personal. I find it abhorrent that we’re considering not allowing people to make decisions about what’s happening in their own physical body.”
While it was inconvenient to drive to Fort Collins. Hiatt did at least have that relatively nearby option. But she says she would have driven 1,000 miles to end that pregnancy if she needed to.
“If there was literally no legal access in the United States, I think that I would probably have been willing to try some pretty dangerous things because I absolutely did not want to be pregnant at that point in time,” she said.
In the days before Roe v. Wade, women did in fact go to those lengths. It was dangerous and occasionally deadly, and abortion rights supporters fear the United States, or large segments of it, are set to return to that reality.
“If I found myself in that situation, would I be willing to go to some sketchy provider? Would I be willing to try something at my best friend’s house? Absolutely,” Hiatt said. “I understand why those women made those decisions.”
If Roe v. Wade is overturned and Wyoming’s trigger law goes into effect, abortion will be illegal throughout Wyoming, except in cases of sexual assault, incest and when the pregnancy directly threatens the life or immediate health of the mother.
Those seeking abortions to avoid raising a child in poverty, or trapping their current and future children in a cycle of poverty, or those who simply never want to be a mother will still have to travel out-of-state.
The reversal of Supreme Court precedent comes as a significant blow to abortion rights supporters, but it’s just the beginning of a larger fight over reproductive freedoms, Hiatt said.
“I absolutely don’t see banning abortion as the end game,” she said. “If you look at the things that they say, they’re absolutely going to be advancing their case. I think access to long-acting contraception like IUDs is probably coming next. I think this opens the door to saying insurance provided through your employer won’t cover contraception because they view that as immoral. This is not where this stops. This is just the beginning. I think all of us should be deeply concerned.”
‘What other religious concerns exist that could potentially tread on the rights of an individual?’
Outlawing abortion will not end the practice. In fact, outlawing abortion is unlikely to even reduce abortion, according to the best available evidence. But an abortion ban could have several effects. As referenced above, abortion is a common procedure. One of out every four women will have an abortion by the time they’re 45 years old.
Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina broke down some of the likely effects of banning abortion on her own Substack feed. To summarize:
Without access to legal abortion, many will turn to less safe and illegal procedures. Individuals who go this route can die during or following the abortion, and if they survive, can sustain infections and injuries. “Pregnancy is riskier than abortion.”
Those denied abortions can be saddled with anxiety, low self-esteem and low life satisfaction compared to women who were not denied abortion access. Women denied abortions are also more likely to get trapped in poverty.
Denying a sought-after abortion can trap someone with their abusive partner, while the mental and material wellbeing of the child created suffer.
Of course, a Supreme Court precedent is not the only way something becomes the law of the land. Nationally, some are pushing Democrats to pass a law establishing the right to abortion — but whether such a bill could gain enough support to pass is questionable.
It’s even more questionable in Wyoming, Rep. Karlee Provenza (HD-45) said.
“In Wyoming, that’s a grim conversation because I don’t know that our legislature would enforce those rights by codifying access to it,” Provenza said. “The unfortunate reality of our State Legislature is that we just don’t have enough people who are advocating for the individual rights here.”
Provenza spoke passionately against Wyoming’s trigger law as it went through the State Legislature this year. She offered heartbreaking testimony about the man who raped her at the age of 14. Abortion access needs to be defended, she said, for any other girls that find themselves in that situation.
“I was horrified of what would happen if I was pregnant, I was so scared that I didn’t tell anybody,” she said, addressing her mostly Republican colleagues in the House.
Like Alex, Hiatt, and several legal experts, Provenza fears abortion will not be the last seemingly established freedom to be undone.
“Now we’re making this decision to overturn Roe v Wade,” she said. “Depending on what those legal arguments are, what other religious concerns exist that could potentially tread on the rights of an individual? That would be my concern. Certainly, the right to gay marriage and gender issues are going to continue to be pressed on courts and in state (legislatures).”
The right to same-sex marriage, like abortion, is protected by a court case banning states from banning the practice. The same is true for contraception. The same is even true for interracial marriage.
While the Supreme Court has not signaled interest in taking on these issues, some of the same logic used in the leaked draft decision could be equally applied to these other precedents. And the overturning of Roe will come, if it does, amid a wave of anti-LGBT legislation and an unrelated Supreme Court case set to erode church-state separation.
“I don’t have a crystal ball to know what’s next,” Provenza said. “But I do think it opens up the floodgates.”