SAN FRANCISCO — An Idaho woman cannot be prosecuted for taking pills to end her pregnancy in violation of state abortion laws, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday in a decision extending protections for women who seek unauthorized abortions.
Under Idaho law, abortions must be performed during the first trimester by a physician in a hospital, clinic or medical office. Unlike many state laws nationally, criminal penalties expressly apply to women who use abortifacients, such as RU-486, in addition to third parties, such as medical providers.
The federal litigation began in 2010 when Bannock County, Idaho, prosecutors brought felony charges against Jennie Linn McCormack for allegedly terminating her pregnancy with pharmaceuticals obtained over the Internet — a so-called "self-abortion" that is outlawed in Idaho.
On Tuesday the Ninth Circuit in McCormack v. Hiedman, 11-36010, blocked McCormack's prosecution and suggested that similar laws punishing women for obtaining abortions would not pass constitutional muster.
Though the Ninth Circuit is no stranger to the abortion debate, Judge Harry Pregerson called the case "different from any matter the U.S. Supreme Court or this court has considered since Roe was handed down."
"There can be no doubt that requiring women to explore the intricacies of state abortion statutes to ensure that they and their provider act within the Idaho abortion statute framework, results in an 'undue burden' on a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus," Pregerson wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.
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