On June 20, a group of health care providers in Virginia announced a legal challenge to protect and expand access to safe, legal abortion. The lawsuit seeks to overturn several core components of the longstanding, unconstitutional abortion restrictions on the books in Virginia. These laws needlessly target abortion providers and harm patients seeking abortion services by imposing burdensome and medically unnecessary requirements. The laws restrict who may provide abortion care and how they provide it, and place onerous, unnecessary obstacles in the way of Virginians seeking abortion care.
Health care providers including Falls Church Healthcare Center, Whole Woman's Health of Charlottesville, A Capital Women's Health Clinic, and the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood are working together with allies and supporters statewide to fight on all fronts to ensure every person can access the care they need. The providers filed suit to overturn the layers of interlocking restrictions that single out abortion care and make it increasingly difficult — and sometimes impossible — for Virginians who have decided to end a pregnancy to get the safe, legal, high-quality care they need.
This challenge was filed by Jenny Ma, Gail Deady, and Amy Myrick from the Center for Reproductive Rights; Jennifer Sandman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and local counsel Claire Gastañaga from the ACLU of Virginia. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of Plaintiffs.
Reproductive rights advocates are using the U.S. Supreme Court's 2016 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt to proactively challenge Virginia’s decades-old restrictions. The Whole Woman’s Health standard reaffirms a woman’s fundamental right to access abortion and declares that medically unnecessary laws that impose burdens on individuals are simply unconstitutional.
The lawsuit challenges these unconstitutional laws in federal district court and is brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The restrictions challenged in the lawsuit include:
- Licensing Scheme: An extensive, onerous licensing scheme that applies only to medical facilities that provide five or more first trimester abortions per month, targeting abortion providers for stringent licensure requirements that have no legitimate medical basis.
- Second Trimester Hospital Requirement: A medically unnecessary and outdated law requiring any second trimester abortion to be performed in a hospital, despite no scientific evidence that these restrictive building requirements make abortion any safer than when performed in a medical office.
- Physician-Only Law: A law preventing highly qualified advanced practice clinicians such as Licensed Nurse Practitioners and Certified Nurse Midwives from providing abortion care, despite their post-graduate training, extensive clinical experience, and scientific evidence that such clinicians perform the procedure safely and effectively.
- Two-Trip Mandatory Delay Law: A law forcing patients to undergo an ultrasound and listen to information that serves no purpose, plus the offering of materials containing irrelevant, misleading, and false statements 24 hours before an abortion, which collectively require each patient to make two trips to a facility and delay their care.
- Criminalization Laws: In conjunction with the other laws, statutes that treat abortion as a crime instead of a common, safe, and legal medical procedure.
"Safe, quality abortion care should be available to all Virginians," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastañaga. "No one should be shut out because of who they are, where they live, or how much money they earn. Virginia has four decades worth of harmful, unnecessary laws on the books that serve to make abortion less accessible. These laws disproportionately impact rural, low-income, and Virginians of color. That's why we are joining the fight as local counsel to stop these laws and make sure all Virginians can access the healthcare they need."
“My Center, Falls Church Healthcare and my fellow Virginia abortion providers and the patients we serve deserve better. Enough is enough: We have endured an onslaught of abortion restrictions for decades, that placed complex, invasive and medically unjustified restrictions on our dear patients’ most fundamental rights,” said Rosemary Codding, Founder and Director of the Falls Church Healthcare Center. “It is time for us to unite and work together to get these outdated and medically unnecessary laws off the books so that Virginians can exercise their God-given rights to self-determination, so they can make their own health care decisions. Falls Church is determined to help them enjoy their rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.”
“Whole Woman’s Health of Charlottesville is thrilled to join forces with our Virginia provider colleagues to fight for access to quality abortion care without a maze of obstacles,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, President of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance. “The Whole Woman’s Health Supreme Court victory from 2016 was game-changing—affirming that abortion laws must be based on medical evidence. We’re using this new standard to affirmatively strike at the core of the Commonwealth’s burdensome restrictions, some dating back decades, that are based on ideology, not health or science.”
“Here in Virginia, we have been up against a regime of restrictions that make it harder for patients to access safe and legal abortion. Today, I stand with my partners to support and defend individuals seeking reproductive health services on the ground, day to day, and face to face,” said Shelley Abrams, Executive Director of A Capital Women’s Health Clinic. “We’re ready to continue the fight, ensuring the constitutional right to abortion is protected and providers have the ability to offer safe, legal abortion because Virginians deserve better.”
“As a physician who dedicates my career to the health and well-being of women, I know firsthand just how difficult these medically unnecessary laws are on patients in need of care. In fact, women seeking a safe, legal abortion after the first trimester have only two health center options in the state because of medically unnecessary restrictions. Limiting women’s access to only two medical facilities only creates more burdens and delays care. As a result, some women are unable to access safe, legal abortion at all because of loss of income from time off work, or cost for child care or travel. It’s time to strike these laws down once and for all and focus on shaping policies that expand access to reproductive health care including safe, legal abortion,” said Dr. Shanthi Ramesh, Medical Director, Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.
“The laws we are challenging today are shutting down clinics, delaying care, increasing costs, and piling one burden on top of another in an attempt to regulate the fundamental protections of Roe v. Wade out of existence,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
"Today's lawsuit is the next step in the fight forward for people’s health and rights, including safe, legal abortion. We’ve seen a groundswell of organizing and mobilizing nationwide that’s creating real change. Take a look at Virginia. Already, working alongside lawmakers, grassroots activists, and our fellow advocacy groups, we fought and won Medicaid expansion for 400,000 Virginians and increased access to affordable birth control. Now, we're fighting in the courtroom, because every person deserves the freedom and opportunity to access health care, including safe and legal abortion." said Helene Krasnoff, Vice President of Public Policy Litigation & Law, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Between 2009 and 2016, the number of medical facilities providing abortion care declined by more than half—making it progressively more difficult and expensive for people seeking abortions to access care. Over 92 percent of Virginia cities or counties have no abortion provider, and the remaining facilities are clustered in five urban areas—leaving large swaths of the state with no access.