Judge Urged to Strike Down Virginia Abortion Limits

A Planned Parenthood supporter hosts an abortion rights button on her hat during a March 14, 2019, rally on the steps of the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A lawyer for Planned Parenthood fought to upend Virginia’s tough abortion restrictions Monday, telling a federal judge the laws have diminished access to the point where some women have been unable to undergo the procedure before 10 weeks, the period in which abortions are safest.

“These restrictions fail to offer benefits that outweigh the burden they create,” attorney Alice Clapman said in court this morning.

Clapman pointed to how Virginia’s law has affected procedures performed by Planned Parenthood across the state, including at the Falls Church Medical Center in Northern Virginia, the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance in Charlottesville, the now-shuttered All Women’s Richmond. 

Since the abortion laws were changed in 2012, Clapman said, the total number of facilities statewide decreased from more than 40 to about 20. Just two of these facilities can perform second-term abortions. 

Clapman said this has led to increased wait times for patients, a predicament that hits low-income women hardest.

Representing the state, meanwhile, Emily Munro Scott with Hirschler Fleischer accused the challengers of conflating “inconvenience” and “obstacle.”

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson seemed receptive to this point, noting that a trip to the doctor is “always an inconvenience.”

Both the state and Planned Parenthood are hoping Hudson will grant them summary judgment rather than hold a trial. Scott tried to make this case Monday by saying the discovery produced so far has not helped Planned Parenthood’s case.

“We don’t have evidence that clinics are not meeting demand,” Scott said.

Clapman argued meanwhile that the state employs a double standard in requiring abortion providers to meet hospital standards, while allowing other procedures that are more invasive to happen at less stringent facilities.

“Vasectomies are performed in facilities with lower requirements,” Clapman said.

Judge Hudson did not indicate how he will rule, emphasizing that the case implicates “decisions that are of such importance to women’s rights and the Legislature.

Virginia’s TRAP laws, as they are known, were the subject of hot debate when they were passed by a GOP-controlled House, Senate and Executive in 2012, but many consider them, and the public outrages that followed, to be one of the turning points in the state’s shift to the left. The state’s then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli helped author and advocate for the laws, but lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe in a 2013 bid for governor. Democrats have won the executive seat ever since and helped coin the term Blue Wave in 2017 when the state’s House gained 15 Democrats and nearly overtook Republicans for the first time in almost 20 years. 

Cuccinelli, who had all but retired from Virginia politics and became an occasional commentator on FOX News, is now rumored to be among Trump’s picks to head the Department of Homeland Security. 

Hudson said he hoped to rule on the summary judgment request before the scheduled trial date which is set for the same Richmond court on May 20.

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