Today, in a landmark ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia became the first federal court to strike down a law prohibiting advanced practice clinicians from providing first-trimester abortion care. These “physician-only” laws—which are on the books in 34 states—have no medical basis and are designed to restrict abortion access by mandating that only physicians can provide abortion care, despite evidence that non-physician healthcare providers can safely and effectively provide such care. As a result of today’s ruling, qualified medical professionals such as nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants will be able to provide first-trimester abortions in Virginia. This case was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the law firm, O’Melveny and Myers, and local counsel the ACLU of Virginia on behalf of various abortion care providers, including Falls Church Healthcare Center, Whole Woman's Health Alliance, the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, and Dr. Doe.
In his decision, Judge Henry E. Hudson found that first trimester abortions “do not require the onsite presence of a licensed physician… As the Supreme Court has often restated, ‘unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right.’”
“This law has absolutely no medical benefit but has been restricting access to abortion care in Virginia for more than 40 years,” said Jenny Ma, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This decision will change the abortion care landscape in Virginia. More medical professionals will now be able to provide abortion care, which means more women will be able to access this constitutional right. We are challenging these laws in several other states and hope those courts will follow Virginia’s lead.”
“This decades-old injustice has been righted—a victory for patients and clinicians alike,” said Rosemary Codding, Founder of Falls Church Healthcare Center. “There never was and never will be any justification for preventing qualified, competent practitioners from providing abortion care in the Commonwealth. This victory is a step forward in our pursuit to ensure all Virginia women can access their constitutionally protected right to abortion care and reproductive health with a clinician of their choice.”
“Today’s decision is amazing. Our work in this case just brought access to people all across the Commonwealth, allowing quality abortion care to be provided by the nurses, midwives, and practitioners they know and trust in their communities,” said Amy Hagstrom-Miller, President and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance. “Today, Virginia brings a bright light to the rest of the country. We look forward to trial.”
Dr. Shanthi Ramesh, Medical Director for Virginia League for Planned Parenthood said, "Previously, a decades-old state restriction barred my highly-capable colleagues from providing safe, legal early abortion care to our patients. The court's decision today recognizes that this restriction harms women seeking an abortion. The decision follows medical associations' support for allowing nurse practitioners to provide early abortion care, as they already do in several states. We are very pleased that, as a result of this decision, more patients will have timely access to the healthcare they need." The challenge to this law is part of a larger lawsuit— Falls Church Healthcare Center v. Oliver —challenging four Virginia laws that prevent and delay abortion access. A trial is set to begin May 20, 2019, where the court will decide the constitutionality of the remaining three laws.
Representing the Plaintiffs are Jenny Ma, Gail Deady, Amy Myrick, Michelle Moriarty, and Rabia Muqaddam from the Center for Reproductive Rights; Alice Clapman and Hannah Swanson of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Daniel Sean Trainor, Leah Godesky, and Nathaniel Asher from O’Melveny & Myers LLP; and local counsel Nicole Tortoriello from the ACLU of Virginia.