On Monday, a federal judge gave a mixed ruling on Virginia abortion laws, overturning two restrictive laws, but upholding two.
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled on the case that challenged four Virginia laws that restrict abortion access, commonly known as TRAP laws, or targeted restrictions on abortion providers. Hudson overturned two laws, one law that would have required all second-trimester abortions to be performed at a licensed out-patient hospital, and a law that would have required clinics that perform first-trimester abortions to meet the same facility requirements as general and surgical hospitals.
Hudson upheld two restrictive abortion laws, one law that requires all abortions to be performed by licensed physicians, and one that requires an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion, otherwise known as a two-trip mandatory delay law. Mandatory delay laws require women to make two trips to a clinic, one trip for the ultrasound and another for the abortion.
In his official opinion, Hudson wrote, “The Supreme Court recognized that within the right to privacy exists a woman’s right to make decisions … whether she chooses to bear a child at all … The state has profound interests in protecting potential life and protecting the health and safety of women. The state, therefore, may take measures to further these interests so long as it does not create a substantial obstacle that unduly burdens a woman’s right to choose.”
In his decision to uphold the physician-only law, Hudson cited that the Supreme Court has continuously ruled that states are allowed to decide what medical procedures can be performed by physicians. Additionally, he stated that the evidence “has not shown that such a [physician-only] restriction has caused an undue burden on a significant number of women seeking abortion care … Therefore, the Court cannot conclude that the Physician-Only law, as it applies to first trimester abortion procedures, is unconstitutional.”
In upholding the two-trip mandatory delay law, Hudson claimed that while the law “poses additional burdens, particularly with respect to poor and low-income individuals, [the evidence] is insufficient for the Court to conclude that it amounts to a substantial obstacle to abortion access.”
Dr. Mark Nichols, medical director of a Planned Parenthood in Oregon and a gynecologist, testified that such restrictive laws are not medically necessary, but simply add layers of regulation. The state defended the laws, claiming that such restrictive laws make abortion practices safer. Emily Munro Scott, an attorney representing Virginia, stated “inconvenience is not an unconstitutional burden.”
Women’s rights groups and abortion providers have expressed discontent with Hudson’s rulings. Rosemary Codding, founder of the Falls Church Healthcare Center, stated, “We’re disappointed that our patients did not get their constitutionally-protected right to accessing health care without legislative interference that they are entitled to and that they deserve.” Additionally, Paulette McElwain, president of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, said, “Today’s decision includes some real progress in breaking down barriers to safe, legal abortion in Virginia … At the same time, the decision leaves in place several burdensome, medically unnecessary restrictions that will continue to post hurdles to patients.”
Sources: The Hill 9/30/19, Huffington Post 9/30/19, Richmond Times 9/30/19