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Federal Appeals Court Overturns Idaho's 20-Week Abortion Ban, Other Abortion Restrictions

Federal Appeals Court Overturns Idaho's 20-Week Abortion Ban, Other Abortion Restrictions

June 1, 2015 — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday struck down two antiabortion-rights laws in Idaho, including a 20-week abortion ban and restrictions that require abortions performed during the second trimester to take place at a hospital, Reuters reports (Levine, Reuters, 5/29).

According to Reuters, lower court rulings on the legislation have prevented Idaho from enforcing either law (Reuters, 5/29). However, the Guttmacher Institute reports that 10 states currently have 20-week abortion bans. Further, the House recently approved such a ban (HR 36) (Sullivan, The Hill, 5/29).

Background

The case centered on Jennie McCormack, who was arrested in 2011 for ending her pregnancy at about 20 weeks by using abortion medication her sister obtained over the Internet. Mark Hiedeman, the prosecuting attorney for Bannock County, Idaho, filed felony charges against McCormack for violating a 1972 state law that says a physician must perform abortion care and that abortion in the second trimester must be performed in a hospital.

Although the charges were later dismissed, McCormack's attorney filed a lawsuit seeking to affirm that she has a right to take medication to induce an abortion and that physicians may prescribe the drugs. The suit also sought to block Idaho's 20-week abortion ban.

A federal judge granted McCormack a temporary injunction barring enforcement of the self-induced abortion statute, but he said she did not have standing to challenge the fetal pain law because she was no longer pregnant when it took effect.

In September 2012, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed the lower court. However, the panel said McCormack's lawyer -- a physician who joined the case as a co-plaintiff -- could still challenge the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/12/12).

Latest Ruling

In the ruling Friday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit said Idaho's 20-week abortion ban violates the standard set in the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the justices ruled that abortion restrictions cannot impose an undue burden on women's ability to obtain an abortion before viability (The Hill, 5/29). Specifically, the judges ruled that the ban is "unconstitutional because it categorically bans some abortions before viability."

Similarly, the court said that the state's law requiring second-trimester abortions be performed at a hospital is unconstitutional "because it places an undue burden on a woman's ability to obtain an abortion." Further, the 9th Circuit found that other provisions in the hospital requirement law were "unconstitutionally vague," including a provision that mandates that abortions in the first trimester occur in medical facilities that are properly staffed (Chappell, "The Two-Way," NPR, 5/29).