A federal judge has struck down Idaho’s “fetal pain” law, which outlaws abortion services after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the scientifically-disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill determined that Idaho’s fetal pain restriction places an “undue burden” on women seeking to have an abortion, which is a direct violation of women’s constitutional rights. The judge also criticized Iowa’s GOP-dominated legislature for allowing protections for fetuses to outweigh women’s right to choose. “The state may not rely on its interest in the potential life of the fetus to place a substantial obstacle to abortion before viability in women’s paths,” Winmill’s decision stated.
Roe v. Wade guarantees women’s right to a legal abortion until the point of viability, generally around 24 weeks of pregnancy. Nevertheless, imposing limits on late-term abortion is one of the most popular tactics that anti-choice lawmakers use to chip away at women’s reproductive rights. Seven states have instituted fetal pain bans over the past several years — and similar measures have advanced in at least two additional states, Arkansas and North Dakota, so far this legislative session.
Winmill is just the latest judge to confront one of these stringent state-level restrictions. Fetal pain measures in Georgia and Arizona have also been blocked from taking effect — and the courts’ decisions in those states, along with Winmell’s decision, could threaten the 20-week bans around the rest of the country. Depending how the situation in Idaho plays out as Winmell’s decision is appealed to the Ninth Circuit, its law could actually be headed all the way to the Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, despite multiple legal challenges to 20-week abortion bans, abortion opponents are still focused on enacting blatantly unconstitutional attacks on women’s reproductive rights. On Wednesday, Republicans in Arkansas overruled their governor’s veto to enact the harshest abortion ban in the nation, outlawing all abortion procedures after just 12 weeks of pregnancy. While late-term abortions tend to be rare, and typically involve concerns about the health of the woman or the the fetus, abortions after 12 weeks are much more common. Arkansas’ new abortion ban would outlaw one out of every 10 abortions in the state.