CHEYENNE — A House committee struck down a bill on Monday that would have made it illegal to have an abortion after a fetus or embryo heartbeat was detected.
House Bill 97 was introduced by Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, before 90 minutes of debate by people on both sides of the issue. Then, shortly after passing an amendment that would allow abortions if a fetus has a medical condition and will die upon or shortly after birth, a majority of committee members voted against the bill.
Legislators said they couldn’t support the bill because it was too constitutionally or medically vague.
Committee member and registered nurse Rep. Norine Kasperik, R-Gillette, noted that during the discussion, she heard different answers to when a heartbeat is detectable. To her, there seemed to be variation by medical equipment used.
“These are questions that I feel like I have not heard answers to and have concerns about the vagueness of some of the language within the bill,” she said.
Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, was concerned that people who violate the law face a felony conviction and up to 14 years behind bars.
“Is this abortion illegal at 22 days with a highly invasive ultrasound or is it illegal at 9 weeks when we hear a heartbeat with a stethoscope?” she said.
Throne also wondered if the bill violated federal law.
The discussion was highly emotional, as women on both sides of the debate told stories from their personal lives. Plenty of tears were shed.
Elizabeth Hiatt, a graduate student in molecular biology at the University of Wyoming, cried as she described an abortion last year. She and her husband didn’t think they could afford medical insurance or decent housing for their child without dropping out of school and relying on family or welfare. She grew up in poverty and didn’t want another generation in her family being evicted, getting vehicles repossessed or heating bath water with a camp stove because the gas was shut off.
“I know the only way I can do that is to finish school and get a job,” she said.
Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, shared her abortion story.
She had three children, and her first husband, who she described as abusive, had left. He was suing for custody and living with another woman. Wallis faced a medical condition that she knew would force her to be put on bed rest and cause her to lose the children.
“They might be harmed and still wind up cast on the mercy of strangers while I lay incapacitated,” she said of her children.
Wallis said unborn babies are “pre-human” since their survival is dependent on their mothers.
Becky Vandeberghe of WyWatch Family Action, which opposes abortion, believes embryos and fetuses are human.
Vandeberghe described being pregnant more than 20 years ago. She got to see the baby’s heartbeat. Three days later, she miscarried.
“It was a human being,” she said. “It wasn’t part of me. It was a human being.”
Chuck Provance of Right to Life of Laramie County supported the bill. He doesn’t think mothers with unwanted pregnancies would be without options.
“There is an alternative to abortion, too, which is adoption,” he said.
Representatives who voted against the amended HB97 were: Kasperik; Throne; Eric Barlow, R-Gillette; Lee Filer, D-Cheyenne; Matt Greene, R-Laramie.
Representatives who voted for the amended HB97 were: Kathy Coleman, R-Sheridan; Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell; Lloyd Charles Larsen, R-Lander.
Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, had to leave before the vote. She can register her vote for the record, although the bill still failed committee because there were five nays.