Potential class-action suit against Idaho’s ‘fetal pain’ abortion law could have national impact

Photo: Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada

A 33-year-old Idaho woman is seeking class-action status on a federal lawsuit challenging a new state law that bans abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, made possible by the claim babies are developed enough at that stage to feel pain. There is disagreement among abortion-rights supporters and opponents about whether this claim is based on scientific evidence.

Jennie Linn McCormack, a mother of three from Pocatello, Idaho, was initially arrested and prosecuted in December 2010 for inducing her own abortion, when she was between 20 and 21 weeks of gestation, with the abortion pill RU 486, which she bought on the Internet, reports Reuters. She was charged under a 1972 state law that classifies ending one’s own pregnancy as a felony, before a judge threw out her case for lack of evidence. Now McCormack is suing the attorney that prosecuted her, Mark Hiedeman.

Idaho’s new late-term abortion law — signed and enacted immediately by Republican Gov. Butch Otter in April — makes it a felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks, except in a situation where the mother’s life is in danger. Though this law was not in effect when McCormack took the abortion drugs, her suit includes both the 20-week abortion ban and the 1972 law; in the suit she claims she induced her own abortion because of the general lack of access to abortions for women in her state. According to the Associated Press, McCormack was single and unemployed when police arrested her after discovering the dead fetus in a box at her home.

McCormack’s case -– depending on how far up the court system it goes –- could impact the five other states that have banned abortion after 20 weeks, beginning with Nebraska in 2010, followed by Kansas, Indiana, Oklahoma and Alabama.