Federal Judge Upholds Virginia’s Abortion Laws Requiring Ultrasound, Waiting Period, and Doctor-Only Procedures

Antiabortion demonstrators assemble at the Capitol in Richmond in April. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

A federal judge in Virginia has upheld the state’s law requiring women to have an ultrasound at least 24 hours before obtaining an abortion and a separate measure requiring physicians to perform the procedure.

Abortion rights activists and providers had challenged Virginia laws they said unnecessarily restrict access, particularly for poor women, and make it difficult and expensive for clinics to operate.

After an eight-day trial in federal court in Richmond, the question for the judge was whether regulations affecting health-care providers, facilities and patients present a substantial, unconstitutional obstacle for women seeking abortions.

In a 67-page ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson retained the waiting period that requires most women to make two trips — one for an ultrasound and another for the abortion.

“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. But he was not persuaded that the law “amounts to a substantial obstacle preventing women’s access to abortion in Virginia.”

Hudson’s mixed ruling struck down two regulations: one that required clinics providing early-stage abortions to meet the same facility requirements as surgical hospitals and another limiting all second-trimester abortions to licensed outpatient hospitals.

With only two facilities in Virginia — in Virginia Beach and Richmond — that regularly perform second-trimester abortion procedures, the judge found a “significant burden on women seeking abortion care.” That “causes anxiety, delays, and at times, the inability to undergo an abortion at all,” wrote Hudson, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, a health-care firm with clinics in three states, called the overall decision a disappointment.

“The court did not see clearly how the other restrictions it left in force are not supported by medical evidence and place undue burdens on families,” she said in a statement. “Two-trip mandatory delay laws, inaccurate medical information, forced ultrasounds and physician-only laws harm patients and they have a disproportionate effect on people of color, rural communities, young people, and those who struggle financially.”

Jenny Ma, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Tuesday that the groups are considering an appeal.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: The Washington Post, Ann E. Marimow