Va. abortion providers sue to toss regulations, some decades old

WASHINGTON — A group of women’s health care facilities that provide abortions filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to overturn many Virginia abortion regulations, some of which date back decades.

The suit relies on a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued two years ago to argue that Virginia laws requiring that only doctors perform abortions, requiring a waiting period, and requiring that second-trimester abortions be performed in hospitals, are collectively violating federal constitutional rights.

The plaintiffs — Falls Church Healthcare Center, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, A Capital Women’s Health Clinic and Virginia League for Planned Parenthood — argue the laws do not help patient safety and are not supported by medical evidence.

The suit, supported by the Center for Reproductive Rights, is part of a broader strategy from abortion-rights groups that is challenging not just new abortion restrictions as they are passed, but older laws that have been on the books for years.

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“Virginia has adopted an array of unnecessary and discriminatory laws, some over four decades old, that target the provision of abortion care without any meaningful improvement to safety or health, or any other benefits — let alone benefits that outweigh burdens. Instead, these laws serve only to negatively impact Virginians’ access to reproductive health care,” the complaint said.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

The Virginia Department of Health declined to comment on pending litigation.

“Enough is enough,” said Rosemary Codding, the director of the Falls Church clinic. “We have endured an onslaught of abortion restrictions for decades. It’s time for us to work together to remove the roadblocks placed in front of our patients [and] to end these outdated, unnecessary, restrictive schemes on abortion care.”

The lawsuit compares special restrictions on abortion providers to a lack of similar restrictions for vasectomies. Vasectomies are allowed to be done in doctor’s offices, and are surgeries, as opposed to the way some abortions are carried out.

The plaintiffs also argue there are fewer regulations governing childbirth than for abortions, which, like vasectomies, they say have a higher rate of complications than abortion procedures do.

“There is no legitimate medical reason to regulate abortion differently than any other comparable medical procedure,” the suit argues.

Some of the laws being challenged date to 1975, when the plaintiffs acknowledge some second-trimester abortions were done differently and may have been more risky. Now though, the requirement to perform those procedures in a hospital is unnecessary, they said.

Efforts from these and similar groups to loosen certain abortion restrictions through the General Assembly have largely been rejected.

“We will not let legislators take pride in saying the ultimate goal is to make abortion disappear in Virginia,” Codding said.

Even with the legal case, the group plans to continue a push in the legislature, where Republicans control each chamber by the narrowest of margins.

“These burdens are not mere inconveniences. They are insulting, stigmatizing and often devastating to our patients who are forced to endure them — devastating economically and devastating emotionally,” Codding added.

While the legal case could take years to reach a final resolution, if the plaintiffs were to win and no additional laws or regulations were passed, it could permit many medical offices across Virginia to perform abortions.

“It may make our centers obsolete, which would be just fine, because what we’re trying to do is increase access for our patient to have and work with her trusted clinician,” Codding said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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