Last week saw the conclusion of a two-week trial in federal court of a case brought on behalf of several Virginia abortion providers by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the law firm of O’Melveny and Myers, LLP that could signal the end of overreaching, medically unjustified regulation of abortion in Virginia. The ACLU of Virginia was privileged to act as local counsel in the case which challenged as unconstitutional laws criminalizing certain abortion care targeting regulation of abortion providers (TRAP). These regulations, individually and together, impose an unconstitutional burden on women seeking abortion care in the Commonwealth.

At trial, we presented evidence from Virginia practitioners and experts who agree that Virginia laws allowing only doctors to perform first trimester abortions and regulations that require doctors’ offices to be retrofitted to conform to standards for surgical centers provide little to no medical benefit to the people being treated. Abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures in the country. This case makes the argument that regulations governing abortion procedures should not be different from regulations governing any other procedure typically performed in a doctor’s office.

The laws challenged in this case include:

  1. Licensing Statute and Regulations: Virginia’s extensive, onerous licensing scheme imposes requirements on clinics and doctor’s offices that provide five or more first-trimester abortions per month which are not imposed on providers of other similar medical services, targeting abortion providers for stringent licensure requirements that have no legitimate medical basis.
  2. Second-Trimester Hospital Requirement: This medically unnecessary and outdated law requires any second-trimester abortion to be performed in a hospital, despite no scientific evidence that abortions are any safer when performed in a hospital than in a medical office. Most other states allow second-trimester abortions to be provided in freestanding health care clinics or doctors’ offices.
  3. Physician-Only Law: This law prevents highly qualified advanced-practice clinicians such as licensed nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives from providing abortion care, despite their post-graduate training and extensive clinical experience, as well as scientific evidence that such clinicians perform the procedure safely and effectively.
  4. Two-Trip Mandatory Delay Law: This law forces patients to undergo an ultrasound and listen to state-approved information that serves no medical purpose and may actually be harmful to the patient and obligates practitioners to offer patients materials containing irrelevant, misleading and false statements 24 hours before an abortion. Collectively these mandates require each patient to make two trips to a facility and delay their care.
  5. Criminalization Laws: In conjunction with the other laws, these statutes treat abortion as a crime instead of a common, safe and legal medical procedure.

We hope the court will overturn these restrictions on abortion services that have both the purpose and potential effect of regulating abortion out of existence and provide no additional protections for patient health or safety. We eagerly await the decision.

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