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Federal judge overturns Idaho abortion law

Judge Lynn Winmill of the US District Court for the District of Idaho [official website] on Wednesday struck down [opinion, PDF] Idaho's "fetal pain" statute, which banned most abortions after 20 weeks. The bill, called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act [text, PDF; JURIST report], was based on disputed medical evidence suggesting that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks and only permitted abortions after that time period when the mother's life was at risk. Linn McCormack was prosecuted [JURIST report] under the law in 2011 for using a combination of FDA-approved abortion pills obtained over the Internet resulting in termination of her pregnancy after the 20-week period allowed by the law. McCormick challenged the law's constitutionality, ultimately resulting in Wednesday's decision. In her opinion, Winmill struck down the law as placing an undue burden on a woman's right to an abortion and as unconstitutionally vague in its criminal sanctions. Wednesday's decision is the first time a court has struck down a fetal-pain law on its merits [Reuters report].

Over the past several years, state legislatures across the country have been implementing measures affecting abortion rights, prompting legal challenges in many instances. On Wednesday the Arkansas State legislature voted to override [JURIST report] the governor's veto of the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, which bans most abortions after 12 weeks. Last month the Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill [JURIST report] tightening regulations for abortion clinics, which critics maintain will result in the closure of many abortion clinics in the state. In January the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a Massachusetts law that established "buffer zones" for abortion clinics, which prohibits protesting within 35 feet of an abortion facility. Also in January a federal judge in Kansas ordered [JURIST report] a trial for a challenge to a state law prohibiting insurance companies from covering abortions. In December a state judge in Georgia enjoined a law [JURIST report] banning doctors from providing abortions for women more than 20 weeks into gestation. In November, Montana voters passed a referendum [JURIST report] requiring facilities and doctors to inform parents of minors before performing an abortion.

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