A federal judge has struck down Idaho’s law banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on beliefs held by physicians and others that the fetus is able to feel pain at that point.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled late Wednesday in favor of Jennie Linn McCormack, who was 33 at the time she decided to challenge the state’s so-called fetal pain law and other abortion laws.
Idaho was one of seven states to adopt fetal pain laws in 2011, following in the footsteps of Nebraska’s approval of the law in 2010. But those laws are no longer the most restrictive. This week, lawmakers in Arkansas overrode a veto of a near-ban on the abortion procedure starting from the 12th week of pregnancy.
In his 42-page decision, Winmill sided with McCormack and her attorney, Richard Hearn, declaring Idaho’s fetal pain law places an undue burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion. The judge also took the Legislature - dominated by Republicans in both chambers - to task for the motives driving adoption of the law, finding that efforts to protect a fetus don’t outweigh a women’s right to choose.
The judge found “compelling evidence of the legislature’s `improper purpose’ in enacting it,” Winmill wrote. “The state may not rely on its interest in the potential life of the fetus to place a substantial obstacle to abortion before viability in women’s paths,” he said.
The ruling also finds unconstitutional at least two other Idaho laws dealing with abortion that Hearn and McCormack also challenged.
In a historic bipartisan vote on Tuesday, the Senate passed Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that would extend abortion insurance coverage to victims of rape in the military. If the House of Representatives decides to include the measure in its version of the defense bill, military servicewomen who have become pregnant from rape will no longer have to pay out of pocket for an abortion procedure for the first time since 1981.
Army veteran Ayana Harrell, 34, has been closely watching the progress of the amendment. Harrell says she was drugged and gang-raped in February 2001 by a group of soldiers and Marines at the Redstone Arsenal base in Huntsville, Ala. It took her three months to drum up the courage to report the rape, she says, because she had been trained to believe that soldiers are not allowed to feel or behave like victims. By the time Harrell told her senior drill sergeant what had happened, she had discovered that she was pregnant from the assault.
“The only thing he said to me was, ‘This is your thing. I don’t want to hear it. You need to deal with it however you’re gonna deal with it. Go off post and get an abortion,’” Harrell told The Huffington Post in an interview.
The Alabama state Senate is picking up the same invasive ultrasound measure that Virginia just dropped.
A state Senate committee passed a measure last week that would require a woman to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound and then be forced to view the images as well as have the doctor describe them to her. In this kind of ultrasound, “a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced,” as opposed to a more common transabdominal ultrasound.
Alabama already requires women to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion procedure, but they can decline to view the ultrasound image. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said on Sunday he just learned of the bill and wasn’t ready to make a comment on his level of support.
“You can’t tell me forcing a probe into a woman’s vagina against her consent is anything but rape,” said state Sen. Linda Coleman, an Alabama Democrat who was the sole vote against the measure on the committee. “You can put icing on it, dress it up, but this is the forced penetration of a woman’s vagina without her consent. This is the most important thing we are dealing with in Alabama, regulating a woman’s vagina? As a woman I am outraged.”
After a strong push back by pro-choice advocates, Virginia began to water down their controversial transvaginal ultrasound law. However, it was only a change from a transvaginal ultrasound to a transabdominal procedure.