A federal trial involving a legal challenge to Virginia abortion laws began in Richmond on Monday with testimony from a witness for the plaintiffs.
The first witness, an expert in obstetrics and gynecology, began testifying shortly after 9 a.m. The trial is before U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, and not before a jury.
On Monday, the judge noted that 5,000 to 7,000 pages of documents had been filed in the case. Hudson said he expects to hear 10 days of testimony and that attorneys will return June 6 for closing arguments, with each side getting two hours.
“I understand this case is important, but I want to wrap this up as scheduled,” Hudson said.
The plaintiffs are taking aim at the physician-only rule for first-trimester abortions. Other issues in the case include whether Virginia’s second-trimester hospital requirement, informed consent requirements and criminal penalties for violations of restrictions impose an undue burden on the right to abortion under the 14th Amendment.
State licensing requirements, including first-trimester abortion facility licensing requirements, are also being challenged by the plaintiffs, who see them as onerous.
The suit was filed in June 2018 by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, and local counsel for the ACLU of Virginia.
Plaintiffs include various abortion care providers, including the Falls Church Healthcare Center, the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, and “Dr. Jane Doe.”
Ruling on a pretrial motion earlier this month, Hudson tossed out the requirement that first-trimester abortions be carried out by a physician.
But last week, he rescinded the order, deciding that he wanted to hear more evidence on the question of whether the physicians-only law presents an undue burden to Virginia women who seek an abortion.
The first witness in the case for the plaintiffs, Dr. Mark Nichols, took the stand shortly after the trial opened Monday.
Nichols testified that since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, abortions have become far safer. He said that one in four American women will have an abortion, that 90 percent of abortions occur within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and that 2 percent happen after 20 weeks.
Last week, Gov. Kay Ivey, R-Ala., signed a measure to bar most abortions in that state. Lawmakers last week sent Gov. Mike Parson, R-Mo., a measure that would ban abortions at eight weeks.