Virginia District Court Rejects Bid to Halt Lawsuit Against the Commonwealth’s Longstanding Abortion Restrictions

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Decision allows challenge by Virginia health care providers to move forward
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(PRESS RELEASE) A Virginia federal court today rejected the Commonwealth’s efforts to shut down litigation brought by a group of health care providers challenging several core components of Virginia’s burdensome statutory and regulatory scheme that target abortion providers and harm patients seeking abortion services by imposing burdensome and medically unnecessary requirements. The court allowed challenges to each of the laws to move forward in a lawsuit filed on behalf of plaintiffs Falls Church Healthcare Center, Whole Woman’s Health of Charlottesville, A Capital Women’s Health Clinic, and the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.

The lawsuit – brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, ACLU of Virginia, and O’Melveny & Meyers LLP on behalf of the health care providers– challenges abortion restrictions in the Commonwealth of Virginia, some of which have been on the books for more than 40 years. Based on today’s decision, challenges will move forward against:

  • 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.
  • Second-Trimester Hospital Requirement: A medically unnecessary and outdated law requiring any second-trimester abortion to be performed in a hospital, despite no scientific evidence that this restrictive requirement makes abortion any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.   
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Criminalization Laws: In conjunction with the other laws, statutes that treat abortion as a crime instead of a common, safe, and legal medical procedure.

“As an abortion-care provider, I can tell you unequivocally that the challenged laws do not protect women. I can also tell you that these burdens are not mere inconveniences. They are insulting, stigmatizing, and often devastating for the women who are forced to endure them, both economically and emotionally,” said Rosemary Codding, Founder and Director of the Falls Church Healthcare Center. “Allowing this lawsuit to move forward finally begins the process of allowing us to do our jobs as medical providers and giving Virginia women the freedom and opportunity to control their lives in the most fundamental way.” 

“I am so thrilled to hear the news today out of Virginia. It is always the right time to do the next right thing, and in today’s news cycle, this decision provides us all with a breath of fresh air. The decision shows the strength of the Whole Woman’s Health legal standard and that our fights for abortion rights are important in all states—be they red, blue or purple!  I look forward to leading the charge to bring relief and justice to women throughout the great state of Virginia as our case proceeds,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, President of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.

"As a physician who dedicates my career to the health and well-being of women, I know firsthand just how difficult these medically unnecessary laws are on patients in need of care,” said Dr. Shanthi Ramesh, Medical Director, Virginia League for Planned Parenthood. “Mandatory waiting periods, licensing schemes, and other unnecessary restrictions do not improve patient safety. Instead they create more burdens and delay care. It’s time to strike these laws down once and for all and instead focus on shaping policies that expand access to reproductive health care including safe, legal abortion.”

 “Today’s ruling is the first step in correcting a generations-long offense affecting millions in the Commonwealth. The laws we have challenged lack any legitimate justification, medical or otherwise, and create constitutionally offensive obstacles to healthcare. They should not, and cannot, stand,” said Jenny Ma, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “For more than 25 years, the Center for Reproductive Rights has stood with our clients in and out of court, and we will continue our fight in the Commonwealth using the courts and the rule of law to protect Virginians’ fundamental rights.”

“Reproductive rights continue to be targeted nationally, including in Virginia. This case is an important challenge to the burdensome regulatory and bureaucratic restrictions facing abortion providers in Virginia, which significantly impede women’s ability to seek the legal abortion care to which they are constitutionally entitled. O’Melveny is pleased to work with our co-counsel the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU, along with other plaintiffs’ counsel at Planned Parenthood, to challenge these restrictions and protect women’s right to safe and accessible reproductive health care,” said Nathaniel Asher, Counsel at O’Melveny

“The ACLU of Virginia is pleased with this outcome and looks forward to moving ahead to challenge the state’s onerous laws and regulations that seek to limit access to abortion services across the Commonwealth,” said local counsel Nicole Tortoriello from the ACLU of Virginia.

While allowing challenges to each of the laws to proceed, the court dismissed a cumulative undue burden claim alleging that the laws in combination imposed an undue burden.

Representing the Plaintiffs are Jenny Ma, Gail Deady, and Amy Myrick from the Center for Reproductive Rights; Jennifer Sandman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Nathaniel Asher and Daniel Sean Trainor from O’Melveny & Myers LLP; and local counsel Nicole Tortoriello from the ACLU of Virginia.