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Federal Judge Upholds VA's Physician-only Law, Mandatory Ultrasounds In Latest Ruling

A federal judge has upheld several Virginia abortion laws that pro-choice advocates say impede women’s access to abortion in the state. The decision stems from a lawsuitthat a group of women’s health providers filed last year, challenging four Virginia abortion restrictions.  

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson ruled that Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound requirement and 24-hour waiting period for an abortion are valid. 

“The Court recognizes that the waiting period following the ultrasound adds a logistical complexity to an existing myriad of hardships faced by those with limited resources and support networks,” Hudson wrote. “However...the Court is not persuaded by a preponderance of the evidence that amounts to a substantial obstacle preventing women's access to abortion in Virginia.”

Hudson also upheld the state’s physician-only law, which prohibits nurse practitioners and physician assistants from performing the procedure.   

The plaintiffs, which include Virginia League of Planned Parenthood, argue this limits access to abortion care by precluding other licensed medical professions from providing abortions. 

Hudson wrote that while other medical professionals may be qualified to perform these tasks, states have the right to decide that particular functions may be performed only by licensed professionals. 

Hudson struck down a law requiring abortion clinics that provide first-trimester abortions to meet the same building code standards as hospitals. He said those guidelines “serve no valid state interest with respect to first trimester abortions”. But Hudson cited the “progressively increasing risks of complications during surgical second-trimester procedures” as his reason for upholding hospital-style building requirements at clinics where second-trimester procedures are performed. Hudson also overturned a law that requires all second-trimester abortions to be completed in a licensed outpatient hospital.

"That's real progress for Virginia," said Paulette McElwain, President and CEO of The  Virginia League for Planned Parenthood. "At the same time he left in place some really onerous pieces of the law that make it very hard for folks to access abortion in Virginia."   

In the 67 page, mixed ruling, Hudson pointed out that abortion rights are not without limitations.   

“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,” he wrote. “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.”

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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