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Idaho's Abortion Ban Is Unconstitutional, Federal Court Says

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says Idaho's law prohibiting abortions after 20 or more weeks of pregnancy is "unconstitutional because it categorically bans some abortions before viability."

The court ruled in favor of Jennie McCormack and Dr. Richard Hearn (on behalf of himself and his patients), who had challenged Idaho's Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that restricts abortion in the state.

In 2011, McCormack was arrested and faced criminal charges after she ended a pregnancy by taking what's known as the abortion pill, RU-486. She was found to have been perhaps twice as far into the pregnancy as the recommended nine-week window for using the pill.

The criminal charges against McCormack were dismissed in 2011; shortly afterward, she filed a class-action lawsuit.

As NPR reported in 2012, "McCormack is a small, quiet woman in her early 30s and a single mom of three. McCormack was raised devoutly Mormon in Pocatello, Idaho, where she's lived all her life — and until last year, she was used to going unnoticed."

The arguments were heard by Circuit Judges Harry Pregerson and Kim McLane Wardlaw and Senior District Judge Donald E. Walter. The court's opinion was written by Pregerson.

In addition to ruling on the 20-week time period, the court said Idaho's requirement that all second-trimester abortions take place in a hospital is also unconstitutional, "because it places an undue burden on a woman's ability to obtain an abortion."

Other elements of Idaho's law, such as a requirement that abortion be performed in a medical office with proper staffing, were "unconstitutionally vague," the court said.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.