Idaho Woman’s Abortion Case Marks Key Legal Challenge
When Pocatello police got a tip that Jennie Linn McCormack had ended her pregnancy by taking an abortion drug obtained over the Internet, they showed up at her apartment one cold January day in 2011 and demanded an explanation.
McCormack eventually took them out to her back porch, where the remains of her fetus were on the barbecue, wrapped up in a plastic bag and a cardboard box.
“My baby is in the box,” McCormack said. Officers uncovered the frozen remains of a 5-month-old fetus and erected crime scene tape around the porch before taking her to the police station and charging her with a felony.
The civil suit that followed, scheduled to be heard by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on July 9, asks the courts to reject as unconstitutional the law in Idaho — a state with only two abortion clinics — that makes it illegal to obtain abortion pills from out-of-state doctors over the Internet.
The case also marks the most significant constitutional legal challenge so far to so-called “fetal pain” statutes, adopted by Idaho and at least five other states. Such laws significantly shorten the window of time in which a woman can legally abort a fetus — in the case of Idaho, to 19 weeks.
McCormack, living in a conservative, heavily Mormon region of southeast Idaho, now finds herself in the middle of an uncomfortable dilemma for both sides of the abortion debate.
Antiabortion groups have usually been uneasy about the idea of arresting women who violate abortion laws, preferring to go after the doctors they see as the guiltier parties.
Abortion-rights groups, meanwhile, want to challenge increasingly restrictive abortion laws, but for them, McCormack is far from the ideal plaintiff — she aborted a fetus at home at close to 20 weeks. And her case, if it winds its way upward, would face a U.S. Supreme Court that seems little inclined to shore up Roe vs. Wade.