A federal judge in Richmond on Monday shot down a Virginia law stating that only physicians may perform first-trimester abortions, opening the door to allowing some other types of medical providers to do the procedures.
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson wrote, “The overwhelming weight of the evidence supports the contention that the regulatory regime necessitated under the Licensing Statute ... is unnecessary and provides minimal medical benefits with respect to first trimester abortions.”
“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,’” Hudson wrote in a 38-page memorandum Monday in a lawsuit challenging various Virginia abortion laws and regulations.
The suit was filed last June by Falls Church Medical Center LLC, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, All Women’s Richmond Inc., Virginia League for Planned Parenthood and “Dr. Jane Doe.” A two-week trial before Hudson is set to begin May 20.
The Center for Reproductive Rights called Hudson’s ruling “landmark.” It said the ruling in the Eastern District of Virginia was the first federal court decision “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. 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,” the center said in a release.
Hudson’s rulings Monday addressed motions from both sides for summary judgment before the trial begins on remaining laws. In one instance, Hudson appeared to rule in favor of the state, dismissing a complaint over the alleged vagueness of a state law requiring second-trimester abortions to be performed in hospitals.
The suit also challenged Virginia’s “Two-Trip Mandatory Delay Law,” which requires a person seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and then delay the abortion for 24 hours — unless they live more than 100 miles from an abortion facility, in which case the wait is two hours.
Jenny Ma, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Hudson’s ruling on the first-trimester physician requirement “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.”
Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said: “Today, Virginia brings a bright light to the rest of the country. We look forward to trial.”
Victoria Cobb, president of the socially conservative Family Foundation, criticized the ruling.
“While a majority of Americans want to see fewer abortions, the abortion industry continues to seek new ways to increase the number of unborn children killed before they are born,” she said an email.
Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, said the decision “is directly contrary to controlling U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
“The Supreme Court in Mazurek v. Armstrong noted that Roe v. Wade itself said the ‘State may determine the term ‘physician’ to mean only a physician currently licensed by the State, and may proscribe any abortion by a person who is not a physician as so defined.’”
“In their unceasing quest to promote no-limits destruction of unborn children regardless of stage of development or ability to feel pain, abortion advocates are more extreme even than the Roe v. Wade decision they claim to defend,” Turner said.
She said, “Despite — or perhaps because of — the near-certainty that the Supreme Court would overturn this unprincipled holding, we have strong reason to fear that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring will shirk his constitutional duty to appeal it, prioritizing his personal advocacy of abortion on demand.”
A spokesman for Herring’s office referred comment to the outside lawyers handing the matter for the state.