PRESS RELEASE: Federal Appeals Court Affirms that Idaho’s Prosecution of Mother of 3 for Having A Medication Abortion at Home is Unconstitutional


Contacts: Sara L. Ainsworth, Director of Legal Advocacy
Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director, Pregnancy Justice
(212) 255-9252, ext. 25;

Federal Appeals Court Affirms that Idaho’s Prosecution of Mother of 3 for Having A Medication Abortion at Home is Unconstitutional

Also Strikes Down Unnecessary and Onerous Burdens on Abortion Providers and Affirms that Idaho’s Ban on Later Abortion Violates the Constitution

May 29, 2015

Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an Idaho federal court’s decision to permanently prohibit enforcement of parts of Idaho’s abortion statutes. The opinion in McCormack v. Herzog comes almost four years after Jennie Lynn McCormack, an Idaho mother of three, was arrested and criminally charged with violating Idaho’s abortion law for ending her own pregnancy. Ms. McCormack, who lives in southeastern Idaho hundreds of miles away from the nearest abortion provider, had an abortion at home with medication obtained over the Internet.

Pregnancy Justice, along with Legal Voice, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, filed an amicus brief supporting Ms. McCormack and urging the appeals court to affirm that criminalizing pregnant women violates their constitutional rights. Sara Ainsworth, Director of Legal Advocacy at Pregnancy Justice, said, “Punishing pregnant women for their health care decisions is not only dangerous as a matter of public health – it is also a gross violation of their civil and human rights.”

The Court’s opinion was its second in this case; in 2013, it affirmed that Ms. McCormack cannot be held criminally liable for ending her own pregnancy, and noted the enormous barriers that women like Ms. McCormack face in communities that lack access to reproductive health care, including abortion care.

In today’s opinion, the Court affirmed that Idaho may not punish women for obtaining abortions, and that pregnant women retain their ability to challenge prosecutions against them, even if they are no longer pregnant. It also struck down three Idaho abortion rules, two requiring onerous and unnecessary burdens on abortion providers, and one prohibiting women from getting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of Pregnancy Justice said, “Political efforts to prohibit and recriminalize some or all abortions are clearly efforts to permit prosecution and punishment of the women who have those abortions. This important decision recognizes that women’s maternal and reproductive health decisions must be addressed as public health matters, not as crimes.”