CHEYENNE — With several amendments to address a number of privacy concerns, the Wyoming Senate will be taking up legislation that will require physicians to file reports about the abortions they have performed.
Though state statutes already contain a number of provisions regulating abortions performed in Wyoming, House Bill 103, as written, is intended to increase practitioner compliance with current state law by mandating that doctors who perform abortions file documentation of the procedure within 20 days of performing one.
Failure to do so within 110 days of performing an abortion, according to the bill, will result in practitioners being reported to the state board of medicine for investigation with disciplinary measures potentially being taken.
The bill considered by members of the Senate Committee on Labor, Health and Social Services on Wednesday is significantly stripped down from a previous version of the bill, which included fines for failing to report abortions within a certain time frame and creating a public report of abortion statistics that included the race and marital status of the women who received abortions, though their identities would not have been made public.
An amendment introduced by Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, on Wednesday sought to assuage those concerns, reinserting language that would have made all records covered under the bill confidential and “hackproof,” by inserting safeguards that would prevent those specific records from being made public.
However, the legislation would allow the state to submit data to the Centers for Disease Control’s annual Abortion Surveillance Report, which tracks metrics like the race and age of the patient — provisions included in the original draft of the bill.
Is it needed?
While proponents of the bill said those figures were necessary in order for communities and health care providers to identify at-risk demographics and better provide resources — like contraception or contact information for adoption services — opponents of the bill argued that, because so few abortions are performed in Wyoming (fewer than 20 in 2014, according to the Centers For Disease Control’s Abortion Surveillance Study released in November) it would have been easy for anyone to deduce the identity of the women who received abortions.
However, several of those speaking in favor of the bill Wednesday argued that abortions in the state were largely underreported, citing survey data from nongovernmental reproductive health organization the Guttmacher Institute, which showed approximately 120 abortions had been performed in Wyoming in 2014. Much of the inconsistency in the numbers, they argued, results from the state’s lack of robust reporting requirements seen in other states around the country, citing information from a study conducted by anti-abortion advocacy organization, the Charlotte Lozier Institute.
Opponents of the bill said that instituting reporting requirements, however, did not actually address the problems they were working to address, saying that the bill was “unnecessary” and an example of government overreach.
“What’s the good that needs to be done here?” asked Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, who argued that whatever issue the bill sought to resolve was already covered under existing state statutes. “The heart of it for me is this assertion that this is a bill that is not about abortion — because it’s about abortion.”
Looking back to the 1970s and the aftermath of landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, laws introduced at the state level have sought a delicate balance between the rights of the patient, provider and state, Burlingame argued, and while Wyoming hasn’t found that balance yet, House Bill 103 was not the legislation needed to strike that balance.
“We do this with gun laws,” she said. “If there is a bill on the books and it addresses this very thing, let’s look at that. Let’s sit down with the people making these decisions in a rational way so people don’t feel terrified and unheard.”
While the bill, lawmakers on the committee argued, would have given the state board of health laws with sufficient teeth to force compliance, one lawmaker argued that the bill does not actually accomplish that goal. Sen. Wendy Davis Schuler, R-Evanston, the only woman on the committee, was also the lone “no” vote on the bill, arguing that the issue was not a lack of reporting on the state’s part — it was about singling out the few providers in the state that do perform abortions.
“I don’t think this bill does what it needs to do,” she said. “I think the board of medical examiners are the folks who need to be doing this. This reminds me of a couple of kids who get into a fight on the playground and, in response, we take away recess privileges from the rest of the kids.
“Whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life,” she added, “it’s singling out these fellows who aren’t getting things done like they should.”
Scott, who said he was on the abortion-rights side of the argument, agreed that Schuler’s perspective was a valid one. However, he said that having data was of some value, and that the reporting of things like complications that arise during pregnancy or other concerns could inform how they issue contraceptives or other health care provisions around the state.
“The purpose all along was to fix the privacy protections,” he said. “I think we’ve helped that with some of the amendments, and this will help us get better data for the medical community. This is a bill the pro-choice community can get behind, and I intend to.”