Judge blocks Wyoming abortion ban from taking effect amid legal challenge

Aug 10 (Reuters) - A Wyoming judge on Wednesday blocked the state's near-total ban on abortion from taking effect while doctors, a clinic operator and others sue to invalidate the law.

Judge Melissa Owens of the District Court of Teton County said the lawsuit raised important questions about the ban, which has only narrow exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies, under Wyoming's constitution.

Owen said irreparable harm could occur if the ban were enforced before those questions are answered. She also said she believes the plaintiffs would win on the merits of their case, though a final decision will likely come from the state's Supreme Court, whose five members were all appointed by Republican governors.

"The legislature cannot pass a discriminatory law on the basis of sex that restricts the constitutionally protected right to make one's own health care decisions," Owens wrote.

"Today's ruling is an important victory for abortion access in Wyoming and in support of Wyomingites' constitutionally protected right to make decisions about their own health care, which includes abortion care," said Julie Burkhart, founder of the non-profit Wellspring Health Access, which plans to open an abortion clinic in Casper, Wyoming.

Wellspring sued to challenge the law, alongside another women's health non-profit, two doctors, a pregnant nurse and a female law student. They argued that Wyoming's constitution includes a right to make private medical decisions.

The office of Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wyoming is one of about two dozen states that have moved to restrict abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned its landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which had established a nationwide right to abortion. New abortion restrictions have drawn a flurry of legal challenges, though most have been allowed to take effect. read more

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Aurora Ellis

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.