Press Release: US Crt of Appeals protects women from prosecution after abortion

September 11, 2012

Janet Chung, Legal & Legislative Counsel
Legal Voice
Cell: 425-306-4761

Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director
Pregnancy Justice
Cell: 917-921-7421

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a strong ruling protecting pregnant women and their decisions in the case McCormack v. Hiedeman. In the first decision of its kind, the Court affirmed the trial court's preliminary injunction preventing the state from using Idaho's criminal abortion statutes to prosecute a woman for seeking abortion care, finding her constitutional challenge was likely to succeed on the merits.

The decision was hailed by Legal Voice and Pregnancy Justice, who along with the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Jennie McCormack. Kathleen O'Sullivan, Breena Roos, and Ashley Locke of the law firm Perkins Coie filed the amicus brief on behalf of the organizations.

In the fall of 2010, Ms. McCormack became pregnant. Unemployed and already a mother of three, she sought an abortion, but there were no providers in southeast Idaho; the closest provider was in Utah. Because Ms. McCormack could not afford the costs of travel and a surgical procedure, she terminated her pregnancy through a medical abortion, using pills obtained over the internet.

Ms. McCormack was subsequently charged under an Idaho statute that makes it a felony for a pregnant woman - not a third party, such as a health care provider - to terminate her own pregnancy in a manner inconsistent with the state's abortion statutes.

The Ninth Circuit held that the Idaho abortion statute "constitutes a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion." The court took pains to acknowledge the barriers that women - especially low-income women - face in obtaining abortion services, including lack of providers, financial obstacles, and harassment at clinics. Notably, the decision also acknowledges the practical realities of Ms. McCormack's life.

"We are thrilled by the Ninth Circuit's unequivocal statement that statutes that make it a crime for women to seek abortion care pose an undue burden on their ability to terminate their pregnancies," said Janet Chung, attorney for Legal Voice, a women's legal advocacy group that filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Ms. McCormack.

"This is an important decision that explicitly rejects Idaho's claim that the state may use its criminal abortion laws to punish pregnant women who end their pregnancies," said Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of Pregnancy Justice. She added, "Leading 'pro-life' organizations have repeatedly claimed that their efforts will not result in women going to jail, yet none opposed the arrest of Ms. McCormack."

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Legal Voice is a nonprofit women's rights legal organization that pursues justice for all women and girls in the Northwest through ground-breaking litigation, legislative advocacy, and educational tools to help individuals understand their rights.

Pregnancy Justice is a nonprofit advocacy organization based in New York City that works to secure the human and civil rights, health and welfare of all women, focusing particularly on pregnant and parenting women, and those who are most vulnerable - low income women, women of color, and drug-using women.