Split ruling for Virginia abortion regulations

Richmond, Va., Oct 1, 2019 / 04:13 pm (CNA).- A federal judge on Monday overturned two Virginia restrictions on abortion, while upholding several others, saying, “the right to choose to have an abortion is not unfettered.”

“In addition to a woman’s personal liberty interest, the state has profound interests in protecting potential life and protecting the health and safety of women,” wrote U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, citing Supreme Court precedent.

“The state, therefore, may take measures to further these interests so long as it does not create a substantial obstacle that unduly burdens a woman’s right to choose.”

Hudson ruled Sept. 30 in a case filed last year by abortion advocacy groups including the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Falls Church Healthcare Center. The suit challenged a series of abortion regulations enacted in Virginia.

Hudson upheld a state law requiring an ultrasound and a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, calling the legislation “a persuasive measure by the State to encourage women to choose childbirth rather than abortion, which is a valid basis upon which to regulate abortion so long as the measure does not amount to a substantial obstacle to access.”

The judge also upheld unannounced inspections of abortion clinics, as well as a law mandating that only physicians may perform abortions. He noted that the state has a legitimate interest in ensuring the safety of abortion procedures.

“Given the potential risk that can arise in the later stages of second trimester abortions, limiting such procedures to physicians only is well-justified, even though it may impose an increased burden on rural residents, especially those who are living at or near the poverty line,” he said.

Hudson overturned a state law requiring clinics that perform first-trimester abortions to meet the health and safety standards of hospitals, saying that safe conditions could be ensured without this requirement, and pointing to previous Supreme Court rulings invalidating similar restrictions.

He also rejected a rule that second-trimester abortions take place in a hospital, saying that medical advancements render this requirement unnecessary for nonsurgical abortions taking place before the baby is viable outside the womb.

“The evidence has revealed minimal medical necessity for requiring non-surgical second trimester abortion procedures to be performed in licensed hospitals. On the other hand, the burden is significant, particularly with respect to costs and availability,” he ruled.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, applauded the ruling, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, saying, “Once again the abortion industry failed in their zealous attempt to use the courts to do their bidding.”

Rosemary Codding, head of the Falls Church Healthcare Center, said she was “disappointed that our patients did not get their constitutionally-protected right to accessing health care without legislative interference that they are entitled to and that they deserve,” the Times-Dispatch reported.

Virginia is one of several states with abortion regulations being challenged in court. More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed this year against state laws restricting abortion.

Olivia Gans Turner, president of Virginia’s National Right to Life state affiliate, argued in May that raising safety standards surrounding abortion procedures protects the health of women, noting, “Laws requiring that ‘physicians only’ perform abortions exist in 40 states.”

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