WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a split decision that continues to limit women’s reproductive health and rights in Virginia, a federal district court ruled this week on four Virginia laws that have impeded abortion access for years. The laws are a result of Republican leadership in Virginia and their determination to deny women full health care.
“In just a few weeks Virginia voters have the opportunity to elect a new General Assembly that will advance, and not roll back, women’s access to full health care,” states Connie Cordovilla, president, Virginia NOW. “As this decision makes clear, we need lawmakers and courts that support women and their constitutional rights without the barriers invented by Republican zealots.”
Toni Van Pelt, president, national NOW, adds “This court ruling has nothing to do with health care and everything to do with politics. Responsible government and unbiased judicial institutions have been hijacked by political agendas and in Virginia, women’s lives are at stake.”
The decision comes after a two-week trial in Richmond. The case was filed on behalf of Virginia abortion providers including Falls Church Healthcare Center, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, and Dr. Jane Doe. The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and O’Melveny and Myers LLP represent the providers along with local counsel, the ACLU of Virginia.
In a win for abortion rights groups, the court struck down:
- The Second Trimester Hospital Requirement: A law that required all second trimester abortions to be performed at a licensed outpatient hospital, despite clear medical consensus that these procedures are just as safe when performed at a clinic or physician’s office. The court recognized that non-surgical second trimester abortions can safely be performed in a clinic setting. All second trimester abortions are non-surgical, as they do not involve incisions.
- Facilities Requirements: Regulations that would have required clinics that provide first trimester abortions to meet the same facility requirements as general and surgical hospitals. For example, clinics would have had to redesign hallway widths and adhere to minimum square footage of procedure rooms, among other requirements unnecessary to the provision of care. If enforced, this law would have forced most clinics in the state to immediately close.
As part of the same decision, the court upheld the following laws that hinder abortion access and cause an undue burden for women:
- The Two-Trip Mandatory Delay Law: A law that forces women to undergo an unnecessary ultrasound and listen to state-mandated information designed to shame the patient at least 24 hours before their procedure. This means patients must unnecessarily make at least two trips to a medical facility and delay their procedure by at least 24 hours.
- The Physician-Only Law: The court acknowledged the “persuasive evidence” that Advanced Practice Clinicians can safely provide abortion care, yet this law was upheld, and will continue to restrict abortion access. It bars highly skilled and qualified medical professionals such as nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants from providing safe, early abortion care, despite evidence, medical consensus, and even the judge’s findings that they can do so just as safely as physicians. The impact is especially severe in under served parts of the Commonwealth.
- The Licensing Scheme*: Abortion providers must meet onerous licensing requirements that have no legitimate medical basis and do not apply to any other health care providers. The licensing scheme singles out any medical facility where five or more first trimester abortions are performed per month and subjects them to regulations that affect virtually every aspect of care.