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Judiciary Committee questions constitutionality, legality of Wyoming’s ‘Life is a Human Right Act’

The Judiciary Committee brought up questions of constitutionality and legality during a meeting discussion of the Life is a Human Right Act.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming residents gathered via Zoom and in person at the Wyoming Capitol building to discuss a bill that would further criminalize abortion and make changes to statute.

HB0152, titled “Life is a Human Right Act,” is described as follows:

AN ACT relating to abortion; creating the Life is a Human Right Act; providing findings and purposes; prohibiting abortion; specifying criminal and regulatory penalties and civil remedies; providing exceptions; specifying applicability and severability; providing a right of intervention; making conforming amendments; renumbering current provisions on abortion; repealing and removing obsolete or conflicting provisions; requiring rulemaking; and providing for effective dates.

Life is a Human Right Act

Sponsored by Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams of Park County, the bill would classify the unborn as a protected people and would criminalize abortion in Wyoming. There are medical exceptions provided in the bill for when termination of a pregnancy would be acceptable, including saving the life of the mother. The bill would make it a felony for anyone to perform an abortion outside the exemptions.

Upon introducing the bill, members of the Judiciary Committee had questions regarding the language itself.

“You have an undefined term on page four which I think caused some concerns among a lot of people, and that is on line 15, page four. The word ‘conception’, ‘the life of every human being begins at conception.’ How do you define ‘conception’? Is that fertilization or is that implantation?” Rep. Ken Chestek said.

Rodriguez-Williams specified that, based on the previous definition of ‘pregnancy’, the bill is implying that life begins at fertilization.

Rep. Barry Crago questioned the constitutionality in the bill. Specifically, there were several parts that refer to the Wyoming Constitution, with Rodriguez-Williams stating the bill would further the Constitution by recognizing an unborn baby as a member of the human race.

“The 14th Amendment uses the word ‘persons.’ We do know that the preborn are members of the human race; they’re legal and constitutional persons and this just further defines that,” Rodriguez-Williams said.

Crago further considered the issue of constitutionality and referred to the section of the bill that relates to compensation of private property.

“We have referenced Section 33, Article One of the Constitution, Section 33. I’ll read it to you: It says compensation for property taken. Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation. I don’t know how that applies to what we’re talking about,” Crago said. “I’m worried we’re just setting ourselves up for a failure right off the bat, a legal failure.”

Rodriguez-Williams did not provide an answer to the question at the time, instead choosing to listen to comments that would be made by key witness Fred Harrison.

Harrison is a Wyoming attorney representing Wyoming Right to Life in the current lawsuit against the Wyoming trigger law. He refers to the case as the basis for that specific language regarding the property being present in the bill, saying: “I agree with you the exception on the property is kind of ridiculous, but that’s pled in the litigation, and in something they say is violated of the Constitution by denying people a property right in pregnancy. Don’t ask me why. That’s part of the basis of their lawsuit.”

Rep. Karlee Provenza asked about the constitutionality of the bill, saying: “If what we’re doing is kind of furthering some of these amendments in our constitution, why are we doing this in statute rather than maybe amending the statute? The constitutional amendments?”

“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the majority of lawmakers within the body to sit on their hands when we could be in the business of saving lives,” Rodriguez-Williams said, “and so what this act does is essentially furthers the movement to do that.”

No decision on whether the bill would continue to the House was made by the end of the committee meeting.

Correction, Jan. 31, 2023: Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams is from Park County. The story has been corrected.