Idaho doctor-lawyer fights fetal pain abortion law

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The first challenge to the constitutionality of the so-called fetal pain anti-abortion laws enacted in several states has come from an unlikely place. So has the second.

Rick Hearn, the lawyer in the center of this fight, represents an Idaho woman challenging her state’s abortion laws in an effort to avoid future prosecution.

The same Rick Hearn, who also is a physician, is attempting to jump into the case as a plaintiff using his status as a doctor, even though he has never terminated a pregnancy, in an effort to make sure that if the case is successful, it applies broadly enough to get his client off the hook for good.

“I was forced to take this highly unusual step to try to intervene,” Mr. Hearn said. “I didn’t want to.”

More than a half-dozen states, including Arizona and Georgia this month, recently have banned abortion after more than four months of pregnancy, citing research that has divided the medical community by suggesting that a fetus can feel pain at about 20 weeks.

Such legislation had overwhelming support when it came up in Idaho last year.

And even though the state’s attorney general warned at the time that the plan might not be constitutional, lawmakers went ahead undeterred.

“The intent of the bill is to protect the innocent,” said Idaho state Rep. Lynn Luker on Monday.

The Boise Republican added, “The focus of the bill is based on science, that at least by 20 weeks an unborn child can and does feel and react to pain.”

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican who presides over a state with more conservatives in the Legislature than in any other state except Wyoming, signed the ban a year ago to the month.

But Mr. Hearn says the measure is an overreach that jeopardizes “the small people” and, because of how it’s written, is nearly impossible for anyone but a doctor to challenge.

One of those “small people,” according to Mr. Hearn, is his client Jennie Linn McCormack.

“I’m intervening in order to assert Jennie’s right to obtain an abortion from a physician,” Mr. Hearn said, “and the courts have said that doctors can assert the rights of patients, especially in abortion contexts.”

Ms. McCormack’s involvement began the day before Christmas in 2010, months before Idaho’s fetal pain law went into effect. Authorities say McCormack that day gave herself an abortion using pills purchased online.

A friend of Ms. McCormack’s sister became upset, authorities have said, and called police in the rural eastern town of Pocatello, reporting an illegal abortion.

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