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Idaho Abortion Ruling States Pregnant Women Can't Be Prosecuted For Having Abortions

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 Jennie Linn McCormack's civil suit challenges an Idaho law that makes it illegal to obtain abortion pills from out-of-state doctors over the Internet. She is shown in Pocatello, Idaho. (Kim Murphy/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Jennie Linn McCormack's civil suit challenges an Idaho law that makes it illegal to obtain abortion pills from out-of-state doctors over the Internet. She is shown in Pocatello, Idaho. (Kim Murphy/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

An Idaho law that bans the use of medication to induce abortion cannot be used to prosecute a woman who took the pills to abort her pregnancy, a U.S. appeals court decided on Tuesday.

Bannock County prosecutors brought a case against Jennie Linn McCormack in 2011 after she used medication that she obtained online to induce her own abortion. McCormack, a single mother of three, claims that she could not find a licensed abortion provider in Southeastern Idaho, so she had to violate a state law that requires abortions to be performed at a hospital or medical clinic.

An Idaho federal judge dismissed the charges against McCormack in September 2011 on the grounds that the law cannot be enforced. McCormack then challenged the law itself, arguing that it imposes an undue burden on women's access to abortion in Idaho.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the law is likely unconstitutional because the burden of having to adhere to criminal abortion statutes should fall on the physician rather than the pregnant woman.

“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,” Judge Harry Pregerson wrote in his opinion.

The ruling, however, does not mean that other pregnant women can now break the law without fear of being prosecuted, Pregerson said. Until the law is struck down, prosecutors can legally continue to enforce it.

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