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Group Sues Wyoming Officials Over Abortion Protests

Abortion Protest
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

A Wyoming group has sued top state officials, claiming a ban on displaying anti-abortion placards in a tunnel between state buildings last year violated members’ constitutional rights.

WyWatch Family Action’s lawsuit Tuesday sought a court order to let the group to display its materials in the tunnel between the State Capitol and the Herschler Building during future legislative sessions, including the one starting next month.

State lawmakers and state employees use the tunnel to travel between the buildings and to reach a parking garage.

The lawsuit claims Rich Cathcart, head of the Wyoming State Building Commission, prohibited members from keeping anti-abortion placards in the tunnel during last year’s legislative session while allowing other groups to display their materials. Other groups permitted to display in the tunnel last year included the Wyoming Outdoor Council and Wyoming Seatbelt Coalition, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit, assigned to U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal, names Cathcart as well as Gov. Matt Mead and other statewide elected officials.  In addition to seeking a court order, the lawsuit also seeks attorneys’ fees and a nominal award of damages.

Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips declined to comment on the case Wednesday. Becky Vandeberghe of Cheyenne, head of WyWatch Family Action, directed questions to the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian civil rights group. Lawyers for Alliance Defense Fund represent WyWatch Family Action.

“We’re interested in protecting First Amendment rights across the country in situations like this where a group is being singled out because of their religious expression and that expression is being banned, even where other groups are allowed to erect similar displays and similar viewpoints in the area,” said Jonathan Scruggs, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund.

Scruggs said WyWatch Family Action wants to put up materials communicating members’ belief that “life begins in the womb.”

“I don’t think it’s the type of situation where it’s any type of gruesome photo or anything along those lines, where it’s a baby that’s been aborted, or a fetus that’s been aborted,” Scruggs. “It’s more of a depiction of a baby in the womb.”

Representatives of the Alliance Defense Fund have lobbied the Wyoming Legislature unsuccessfully to pass a bill specifying that the state wouldn’t recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Such a bill was defeated last year. The Alliance Defense Fund also has litigated against same-sex marriage in California.

The Alliance Defense Fund also represented a group of Wyoming lawmakers last year in their unsuccessful attempt to intervene in a same-sex divorce case that was pending in the state Supreme Court.

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