An Idaho woman is challenging the state’s ‘fetal pain‘ law, after being charged for taking abortion drugs when she was more than 5 months pregnant. Under Idaho law, 19 weeks is the legal abortion limit, based on the premise that a fetus can feel pain after this point.
The woman, Jennie Linn McCormack, terminated her pregnancy in 2010 by taking abortion-inducing pill RU-486 (not to be confused with Plan B, the ‘morning-after’ pill), which her sister had purchased for her in Mississippi when it was too difficult for the unmarried mother of three to get the procedure at an Idaho clinic.
McCormack, who thought she was about 12 weeks along, took the pills (the protocol involves two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol) the afternoon they arrived. The drugs are FDA-approved only for ending early-stage pregnancies; McCormack had no complications, but the pregnancy turned out to be more advanced than she thought—perhaps between 18 and 21 weeks, experts later speculated—and the size of the fetus scared her. She didn’t know what to do—“I was paralyzed,” she says—so she put it in a box on her porch, and, terrified, called a friend. That friend then called his sister, who reported McCormack to the police.
She was charged under Idaho law that makes it illegal for anyone other than a health care professional to be involved in ending a pregnancy. A judge tossed out the case, but he did so “without prejudice,” which means she could face future prosecution.
McCorkmack and her lawyer, physician Rick Hearn, are now challenging the constitutionality of Idaho’s fetal pain law, in a case that could set national precedent.
“I look forward to resolving the important constitutional questions raised by these laws restricting access to abortion services enacted not only in Idaho but in many other states,” Hearn told The Associated Press.
Fetal pain laws have been enacted in more than a dozen states, according to AP. Although it’s unlikely a fetus can perceive pain before the third trimester (when nerve ribers reach the cerebral cortex, where consciousness resides; before that, any ‘pain response’ is merely reflex), the state laws tend to ban abortions after 19 weeks.
Roe v. Wade, for the record, allows for abortion through at least 24 weeks. A 2011 study said a fetus can’t distinguish between touch and pain until around 35-37 weeks, or just before it would normally be born.
Photo: The Daily Beast