Judge Says Idaho’s ‘Fetal Pain Law’ Unconstitutional

Mar 7, 2013

Jennie McCormack of Pocatello, Idaho, comforts her youngest son. McCormack was charged under Idaho law for having an illegal abortion
Credit Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

A federal judge has declared Idaho’s so-called “Fetal Pain Law” unconstitutional. Idaho is one of eight states with a law banning abortions after 20 weeks. The case stems from a woman’s arrest under a separate statute for having an abortion.

Judge B. Lynn Winmill says the 20-week limit on abortions is unconstitutional because it doesn’t seek to inform the pregnant woman, nor improve her health, as the Supreme Court has allowed. Rather, he writes, it’s solely intended to put an insurmountable obstacle in the path of women seeking abortions.

The constitutional challenge came about after a woman named Jennie McCormack was arrested in Pocatello, Idaho for using RU-486 pills obtained off the Internet. Police charged her under a different 1972 Idaho law that makes it a felony for a woman to have an abortion without the help of a doctor.

But in an unusual legal twist, her attorney, who is also a doctor, challenged both that law and the state’s 2011 law banning abortions after 20 weeks into the pregnancy.

Judge Winmill sided with McCormack and her attorney, throwing out several sections of Idaho abortion law, including the one McCormack faced prosecution for.