U.S. appeals court strikes down Idaho law banning abortions after 20 weeks

A three-judge federal panel declared an Idaho law limiting abortions unconstitutional

Three federal judges have unanimously struck down an Idaho law that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

A panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous ruling by the U.S. District Court of Idaho, which also found portions of the law unconstitutional.

Jennie McCormack, the plaintiff in the case, was arrested in 2011 for taking a pack of five pills to end a pregnancy. Surgical abortions were not available in southeast Idaho, where she lived, according to court documents.

Instead of undergoing an inpatient procedure, which would have required McCormack to travel more than 150 miles, crossing the Utah state line, to Salt Lake City, she used a combination of medicine to induce an abortion in her home.

A physician determined that the fetus was between 19 and 23 weeks, which put McCormack’s abortion on a fine line legally.

The Circuit Court’s opinion released Friday reasoned that the law violated women’s rights because it “categorically bans some abortions before viability” by prohibiting abortions before the 24-to-28-week viability benchmark.

Federal judges have stopped similar pre-viability abortion bans in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Arkansas and North Dakota.

A state court dismissed the criminal charges against McCormack because the case against her lacked probable cause. McCormack fired back at Mark Hiedeman, then-prosecuting attorney for Bannock County, with a class-action lawsuit that made its way through the U.S. District Court of Idaho and then to the 9th Circuit.

In addition to striking down the 20-week limitation, the court ruled against a provision requiring hospitalization for women seeking second-trimester abortions. The regulation “places an undue burden on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion,” the court said in its opinion.

The case opens the path for challenges to similar laws in other states. As many as 12 states outlawed the procedure after a fetus reaches 20 weeks, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute. Among those states are Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Indiana. West Virginia, the most recent state to join this list, passed a law Tuesday limiting abortions to before the 20-week mark.

The violation McCormack was accused of was a felony offense in Idaho. Women or doctors in violation of the law could be sent to prison for between one and five years.

Other elements of the Idaho law, including a statute that required physicians performing abortions to make “satisfactory arrangements” with nearby hospitals, violated women’s rights by being “unconstitutionally vague,” the court said.

katie.shepherd@latimes.com

Twitter: @katemshepherd

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