Women’s Health Groups Challenge Virginia on Abortion

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Women’s health groups brought a constitutional challenge Wednesday to abortion laws passed by the Republican-dominated Virginia General Assembly.

Led by the Falls Church Medical Center, the 62-page complaint cites “stringent licensure requirements” and other laws added to the state code during the 2012 legislative session. Targeting medical facilities that provide five or more first-trimester abortions a month, or those that provide abortions outside of licensed hospitals, the laws include a two-day wait for abortions and a mandatory ultrasound before the procedure can be conducted.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which is lead counsel in the case, notes that the laws forced the closure of at least one clinic, Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk. The clinic had been operating since 1973, when Roe v. Wade legalized abortions nationwide, but could not afford the $500,000 it would have cost to make the building alterations required by law.

Taking aim specifically at the two-day waiting period — required unless the patient must travel more than 100 miles — the complaint says it “impermissibly burdens people seeking abortion care.”

“This requirement mandates two separate trips to a facility: one for an ultrasound and the second for an abortion,” the complaint states.

“The law also requires providers to verbally offer patients the chance to view the ultrasound image, receive a printed copy, and listen to fetal heart tones, and then to obtain written certification of whether the patient declined or accepted.”

The Whole Women’s Health Alliance, A Capital Women’s Health Clinic, and the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood are also named as co-plaintiffs, and each group purports to represent all on behalf of their patients, physicians and staff. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America joined as co-counsel as did the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Virginia.

They want a federal judge in Richmond to partially enjoin enforcement of five laws.

“No other safe, routine, health care is subject to these kinds of unnecessary, burdensome rules that are intended only to make it difficult, if not impossible, to get an abortion,” ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga said in a statement.

Charlotte Gomer, press secretary for the Virginia attorney general, said her office would “take the necessary time to carefully review [the lawsuit] and evaluate appropriate defenses.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, has a history of not defending laws he believes violate the Constitution, including the state’s 2006 ban on same-sex marriage, which was eventually overturned.

Asked whether Herring would take the same route with this suit, Gomer said the office needs time to evaluate the lawsuit.

In addition to calling the laws unconstitutionally vague, the challengers say they violate Roe v. Wade as well as the due-process, liberty, privacy and search protections. The groups say they also endanger women’s health and impose undue burdens on women and their physicians.

“Since abortion became legal, clinicians have gained decades of experience, and techniques and methods have evolved,” says the complaint, which is signed by Gail Deady at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“Today, as the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, abortion is ‘extremely safe with particularly low rates of serious complications and virtually no deaths occurring on account of the procedure.’”

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