The “Equality” State, Backwards Behavior, and Increasing Panic | Vol. 4 / No. 14.5

Wyoming welcomes (some of) you! | Photo: CGP Grey, CC BY 2.0

In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle takes a look at Wyoming — the “equality” state — and it’s anti-knowledge crusade against abortion (among other things).

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In many ways I love my state. (I moved back to it with no job prospects after living in Boston for three years; if that isn’t Stockholm Syndrome levels of devotion, I don’t know what is). I have an awesome job. Most of my family is here. I have an amazing group of friends who I know would both kill and die for me (and I feel the same for them). The sunsets can take my breath away, and there are places where if you turn one way you can see the ends of the earth and if you turn the other way a mountain will take up your whole view. I’m even really fond of Frontier Days, which almost everyone else in my state is basically too cool for.

But I can count on one hand the times I’ve actually been proud of my state. Our moniker of the Equality State is basically the biggest irony in the “state nickname” game. We have the worst gender wage gap in the country, 93% of the state is white, and when a piece of art on the campus of our only four-year higher education institution dared to criticize the oil and gas industry, said industries forced the removal of said art lest the university lose funding. Hell, one of the most famous events in our state’s history is an anti-gay hate crime so terrible they literally named part of the nation’s main hate crime law after its victim, Matthew Shepard.

I honestly thought there were signs things were getting better. We rejected Liz Cheney’s first go ‘round at trying to enter politics in a state she’d barely lived in. Laramie passed an LGBT nondiscrimination act. But then we elected The Orange One (…and also Liz Cheney), and it seems to have caused a chain reaction of insanity and general assholery.

This year’s proposed legislation at the state level included one of the most severe anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bills in the country, a bill to penalize alternative energy, a bill to allow concealed carry on campuses, and three (originally four) anti-abortion bills. We defeated that first one. The second one passed committee. And the abortion ones… well, guess what we’re talking about today?

First, some context.

Wyoming only has two abortion providers in the entire state. Neither of them performs abortions after 12 weeks. Both of them are in Teton County, aka Jackson, Wyoming, aka East California Wyoming (the wealthiest part of the state, the location of celebrity ranches, and so expensive to live in that most of the everyday workers in the state can’t actually afford to live in the city they work in).  According to the CDC, there were fewer than 20 abortions in Wyoming in 2013, which is the last year with available data. Not 2000. Not 200. 20. So legislators introduced four bills to restrict something that happens 20 times a year. That is one bill for every five times an abortion actually happens.

And the bills are some doozies.

HB-250 weakens patient privacy by requiring reporting on abortions to vital statistics, and penalizes the purchasing and selling of embryonic tissue. (Which, by the way, doesn’t effing happen.)

HB-182 requires women to either get an ultrasound or sign a paper saying they don’t want an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion procedure. If you’re playing along at home, you probably noticed that both of those options require the woman to be physically present at the clinic on two different occasions. Yep, this isn’t just a “looking at an ultrasound magically makes you want your baby” bill (which again, doesn’t effing happen: 98.4% of women who view an ultrasound continue with the planned abortion, compared with 99% of women who don’t view an ultrasound. It’s almost like women are logical beings who have made decisions about their health and lives before a doctor shoved cold jelly and a wand onto their stomach. Weird.). It’s also secretly a waiting period bill. Which… let’s unpack how freaking stupid that is, shall we?

It’s about making abortion more expensive.

Mandatory waiting period laws that require two in-person visits exponentially increase the cost and difficulty of obtaining an abortion, especially in a state with few abortion clinics and many rural citizens (like a state that rhymes with… By-doe-zing. Nothing rhymes with Wyoming, so sue me). Such a requirement increases costs related to travel, accommodations, child care, and increases the amount of lost work or school that the women must experience (Jones and Jerman 706). These are unfair burdens, especially for poor women. And while these laws do decrease abortion rates, they rarely actually result in an increased quality of life for the mother. Instead, these laws often lead to women keeping unintended pregnancies despite a lack of resources to care for children, and increase the proportion of second-trimester abortions. Of particular concern in a state that ranks 11th for teen pregnancy, mandatory waiting period laws such as this one have been shown to result in a more than two-fold increase in unintended teen births (Coles et. al 166).  And again, remember that the majority of Wyoming’s counties don’t have an abortion clinic at all. So you have to get yourself to Expensive-as-Hell Wyoming, get the unnecessary ultrasound or sign the piece of paper that says “yes, I understand what words are and what abortion means,” and then stay in Expensive-as-Hell Wyoming overnight so that you can get the procedure done that you knew you wanted in the first place.

Which brings us to HB-116.

This is… There is a special level in purgatory for the people who proposed this bill. My vote is for the level where there are televisions everywhere but they play nothing but infomercials for ShamWow. HB-116 is a “fetal pain” bill, which redefines viability to be the point at which a fetus can feel pain. Not the point at which a fetus can actually survive outside of the womb—the point at which it can feel pain. The news articles about the bill often peg this at 20 weeks, though literature reviews say that a fetus doesn’t develop the ability to process painful stimuli until about 29-30 weeks, or roughly the third trimester. This “fetal pain” definition ignores a number of things:

  1. Viability outside the womb and the ability to feel pain are not actually synonymous.
  2. Only about 1.2% of abortions are performed at or after 21 weeks.
  3. If you are having a third trimester abortion, it is likely because something is terribly, terribly wrong.
  4. To repeat a point made above, none of the clinics in Wyoming will perform an abortion anywhere near the point of fetal pain.

To spend time banning something that literally cannot happen in Wyoming is basically the best possible example that you could get that this is about scoring rhetorical and political points, not any actual concern for the life or health of either women or fetuses. Introducing language of “fetal pain” is just the first step toward Personhood Mountain, where eventually all abortion is deemed illegal thanks to the slippery mountain slope of “personhood.” And then the conservatives… dance? Maybe? Pray that their daughters never have unprotected sex despite their simultaneous vendetta against contraception?

But wait, it gets dumber.

The other incredibly, incredibly stupid aspect of this bill is the ban on using fetal tissue for research. The second part of the bill states:

Whoever sells, transfers, distributes or gives away any aborted child or any tissue or cells from an aborted child for any form of experimentation is guilty of a felony punishable by a fine of not less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00) and by imprisonment in the penitentiary for not less than one (1) year nor more than fourteen (14) years.

Setting aside for the moment that the bill writers obviously went with the medically inaccurate term “child” instead of “fetus” in order to better tug at heart strings and to paint abortion providers and abortion-havers as monsters, let’s dwell for a bit on the particulars. First, the bill doesn’t say what should be done with the fetal tissue besides using it for research. Incineration? Weirdly macabre and expensive funerals? Flushing it? It seems to be a case of “you can’t be used for lifesaving and irreplaceable research on Ebola, HIV/AIDS, Down Syndrome, Zika, schizophrenia, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s but you also can’t stay here.”

But the bill doesn’t specify that it is only fetal tissue that is the result of an abortion that cannot be used for research or “any form of experimentation.” No fetal tissue can be used for “experimentation.” Hey, you know who frequently need to perform “experimentation” on fetal tissue in order to figure stuff out things like what causes miscarriages and fetal abnormalities? The goddamn doctors who are trying to figure out why their patient had a miscarriage or a fetal abnormalityRene Hinkel, a physician who spoke against the bills and my new personal hero, pointed out that it would be basically insane if a doctor was charged $10,000 every time they had to send fetal tissue for testing. See kids, this is why you either A, major in the sciences so that you know all of this is stupid bullshit without a scientific basis, or you major in English so that you can write a bill that doesn’t penalize everyday OB/GYN’s who are trying to help their patients understand why their pregnancy ended.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how likely it is that I’m going to have a rage-induced heart attack before I’m forty) I wasn’t able to attend the actual hearings on the bill. But from what I’ve gathered from those who did… wow. Anti-abortion people outnumbered pro-choice people by about 3 to 1, and apparently a whole busload of people from bill sponsor/representative Scott Clem’s district came down just for the purpose of throwing histrionics about abortion. Straight up factual inaccuracies were let fly unchecked, like the claim that 90% of women who looked at an ultrasound decided to keep the child or that a woman was “deprived” of a grandchild because another woman decided to have an abortion, anti-abortionists were allowed to dominate the testimony because they happened to sit down in the main room first, and a pre-teen boy was essentially used as a human prop. (Please don’t tell me I need to enumerate the reasons that a pre-teen boy is not the proper person to speak on the issue of women’s reproductive rights.) In Dan Cepeda’s news article about the event, it was clear what side of the issue actual doctors were on: “Most physicians who testified opposed the legislation.” But who needs to listen to actual women and actual physicians when you’re making decisions about women’s health? Each of the bills passed, 6-3.

In conclusion:

In many ways, I do love Wyoming. I love my job, I love my friends, and I love many things about the state itself. My family has lived here for four generations, and my plan here is to live here for quite some time. (Just don’t go expecting generation five.) But it is getting increasingly difficult to reconcile myself with a state in which the majority of the legislators and even the citizens seem hell-bent on destructive, aggressive, and backwards behavior. When I look around, I no longer see many of the “Code of the West” that Wyoming supposedly prides itself on.  (Yes, we literally added that to the state constitution. No, I cannot explain why. Whatever the Wyoming version of ‘Merica is, probably.) I’ve always seen myself as a “stand your ground and fight” sort of person, but I’m feeling more and more unease with the state that has been my home for most of my life. I’m starting to wonder if it’s safe to call it “my” ground at all, or if I lost the ability to call it that once I was born as anything other than a white, Christian male in the “Equality” State.

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Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to explain the minutiae of why Wyoming’s quest against abortion is insane and will only hurt women (not save “babies”), she studies gender in popular culture.

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