Jennie McCormack & How Legislation Limits The Right To Choose
In 2010, Idaho resident Jennie McCormack became pregnant and purchased medication online to induce a miscarriage and terminate her unwanted pregnancy. In southeastern Idaho, where McCormack lives, there are no abortion providers—the nearest clinic is 140 miles away in Salt Lake City, Utah, and McCormack could not afford the cost of the trip and the procedure. With her choices severely limited, McCormack ordered medication online, and in 2011, prosecutors brought criminal charges against McCormack for doing so, because in Idaho, what she did is considered a felony.
Typically, legislation that limits abortion services prosecutes the doctors who perform the restricted procedures. Criminalizing women has never been on the mainstream pro-life agenda, but in Idaho, if you are a woman and take actions to terminate your pregnancy, you could have felony charges brought against you. In Idaho it is also illegal to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks based on the premise that the fetus may feel pain, despite the fact that science supporting this claim is questionable at best.
Although an Idaho federal judge dismissed the charges against McCormack and, in response to McCormack’s lawsuit, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth District found the Idaho law that allows women to be prosecuted “likely” unconstitutional, the law remains and other Idaho women could be prosecuted under it. McCormack’s challenge of the fetal pain law was ended by the appeals court because she was not charged with that specific crime–even though the fetal pain law is clearly contributing to the hurdles any Idaho woman has to navigate in order to access abortion services.
The immediate issue here is one that is rarely laid out plainly: gaining access to an abortion provider in rural America is not easy. The sheer distance from your home to the clinic can be hundreds of miles—a road trip many women are unable to afford both financially and time-wise. And even if you can get to the clinic and have the procedure performed, there’s the issue of getting back. If you undergo twilight anesthesia during your abortion, you may not be able to drive afterward.
If you are a mother, as many women who have abortions are, the issue of childcare makes the logistics even more difficult. In many states, even bright blue ones, clinics provide abortion services only one day a week, while other states also require women to have an initial clinic visit 48-to-72 hours prior to the procedure during which they receive mandatory counseling, are shown ultrasounds of the embryo/fetus, and are made to watch videos and read literature informing them of the medical risks of an abortion. And with each week that passes in a pregnancy, the abortion becomes more laborious and more expensive.
The underlying issue is more complicated and frightening. Historically, proposed legislation limiting abortion access in the United States directs its charges at doctors, as pro-life advocates argue that the laws are meant to prevent doctors from performing unsafe abortions and protect women’s health. But in practice, limiting abortion access does nothing but make a difficult procedure even harder. Having access to safe and legal abortion services protects women’s health. That, to be blunt, is the foundation of the entire pro-choice movement.
The reason why these Idaho laws are so frightening is simply because they exist at all. It’s easy for women who have lived their entire lives post-Roe v. Wade to take for granted the right to choose whether or not they want to be pregnant, but that a woman in the United States was persecuted for terminating her pregnancy is a stark reminder that the right to choose is a right many legislators are working hard to revoke. These laws remain in effect–meaning that McCormack could be prosecuted again for terminating a pregnancy if done in a way that Idaho, a very large state with very few abortion providers, does not permit. Yes, it is a good thing that the U.S. Appeals Court decided that to prosecute Jennie Linn McCormack was wrong, but to treat that ruling as any sort of victory would be ignoring the outrageousness of McCormack ever being charged in the first place, the cruelty of creating needless red tape for women already in a difficult situation, and the fact that nothing is preventing other Idaho women from similar prosecution.
What do you think of the legislation in Idaho and other places that limit a woman’s access to safe abortion services? Leave us a comment and share your thoughts.
Written by Kate Russell
All opinions expressed in our editorials are those of the author and do not represent the views of Feminspire or its staff as a whole.