Many laws and regulations impede access to abortion in Virginia by putting unnecessary burdens on patients and the providers who seek to serve them.

Earlier this year, the ACLU of Virginia supported a coalition of reproductive rights organizations that filed suit challenging the constitutionality of several of these laws and regulations. Last week, the judge in that case ruled it must go forward.

Abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures in the United States. Nearly one in four women in the U.S. will obtain an abortion by age 45, and abortion patients come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. We must preserve access to this procedure, so all Virginians who decide to end a pregnancy can get the safe, legal, high-quality care they need.

As we’ve written before, Targeted Restrictions of Abortion Providers (TRAP laws) like the laws in Virginia treat abortion providers differently from other medical providers by regulating them beyond what is necessary for their patients’ health and safety. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ruled that TRAP laws in Texas did not make patients safer and imposed an unconstitutional burden on abortion access. Based on that precedent, we’re challenging similar TRAP laws and regulations in Virginia that we believe fail the “undue burden” test set forth by the Court in Whole Woman’s Health. These laws and regulations include:

  1. Licensing Statute and Regulations: 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.

  2. Second-Trimester Hospital Requirement: A medically unnecessary and outdated law requiring any second-trimester abortion to be performed in a hospital, despite no scientific evidence that this restrictive requirement makes abortion any safer than when performed in a medical office.

  3. 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 and extensive clinical experience, as well as scientific evidence that such clinicians perform the procedure safely and effectively.

  4. 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.

  5. Criminalization Laws: In conjunction with the other laws, statutes that treat abortion as a crime instead of a common, safe, and legal medical procedure.

In a ruling last week, Judge Henry Hudson refused to dismiss the case challenging Virginia’s burdensome laws recognizing that “the United States Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion before viability, without undue interference from the state.”

As the case moves forward, we will continue to fight to preserve this fundamental right in Virginia by proving that these unnecessary laws and regulations constitute undue interference from the state. They reflect a purpose and design, not to protect patient health and safety, but simply to legislate and regulate abortion out of existence.

Update 10/15/2018: The Virginia Department of Health has just announced it will once again review TRAP restrictions on Virginia abortion providers — and they need to hear from you. Make a public comment on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website by 10/31 to tell the Health Commissioner and Board of Health to rely on evidence-based medicine and repeal sham restrictions on Virginia women’s health centers! Comment the following message to the Virginia Board of Health:
During the review of medically unnecessary, sham restrictions on doctors’ offices and clinics that provide abortion services (also known as TRAP regulations), the Virginia Board of Health must rely on proven, evidence-based medicine, not ideology. There is not, and never has been, a medically justifiable reason for regulating abortion providers like hospitals. Instead, these restrictions were designed to shutter doctors’ offices and clinics that provide abortion services and prevent women from receiving access to healthcare, including cancer screenings, birth control and safe abortion. These restrictions are unconstitutional and put an undue burden on women seeking abortion services. The Board of Health must heed the expertise of doctors, medical professionals and legal experts in voting to protect providers of abortion services from onerous, medically unnecessary and unconstitutional regulation.