National Advocates for Pregnant Women was the first national organization to offer support to Jennie McCormack, an Idaho woman who was arrested for having an abortion. We are thrilled to report an important victory in Ms. McCormack's case. Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its second opinion in McCormack v. Herzog, holding that it is unconstitutional to prosecute women for having abortions, and striking down several parts of Idaho's laws that limit women's rights and access to abortion.
In 2012, Ms. McCormack, a mother of three, was arrested for ending her own pregnancy. Living in southeastern Idaho, hundreds of miles away from the nearest abortion provider, Ms. McCormack had safely ended her pregnancy at home with medication obtained over the internet. NAPW, joined by Legal Voice, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, and represented by Seattle attorneys Katie O'Sullivan and Katie Galipeau of Perkins Coie, filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs in support of Ms. McCormack. The briefs challenged Idaho's authority to punish a woman for having an abortion.
In its opinion, the Ninth Circuit affirmed that Idaho may not punish women for obtaining abortions; affirmed that Ms. McCormack retained her right to challenge Idaho's laws that could be used to punish her; and held that doctors with the ability to provide abortion services have standing to challenge restrictive abortion laws even if they have not previously provided abortion care. The decision also struck down several provisions of Idaho's laws denying pregnant women their right to equality and health care: a provision that prohibited women from getting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy; one that prohibited women who need an abortion in the second trimester from doing so anywhere except in a hospital; and another that required "proper" and "satisfactory" (terms that were undefined) equipment and staff for first trimester abortions.
This decision is especially significant for its sweeping rejection of Idaho's claim that it has a right to punish women who have abortions.
Anti-abortion organizations that support criminal abortion laws have consistently claimed that they are only seeking to protect women, not punish them. What happened to Ms. McCormack and other women, including Purvi Patel, reveal that such laws are already being used to punish women just as they are in countries like El Salvador, where abortion is completely illegal. The Ninth Circuit's decision is an important step to winning full recognition of women's equality, humanity, and dignity.
Please support NAPW so that we can defend this decision and ensure justice for all people with the capacity for pregnancy.