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Lawsuit Challenges Virginia GOP’s Web of Anti-Choice Restrictions

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The lawsuit filed Wednesday is the latest by advocates hoping to leverage a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court pro-choice win in states across the United States.

Reproductive rights advocates on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit in Virginia seeking to overturn a series of restrictions they say unduly burden abortion rights throughout the state.

The lawsuit, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU of Virginia, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, challenges several anti-choice restrictions passed by the state’s Republican-held legislature, including a targeted regulation of abortion provider law, which treats like a hospital any medical facility that provides five or more first trimester abortions per month, a law that criminalizes second trimester abortions performed outside of a licensed hospital, and a “physician only” requirement that forbids advanced practice clinicians from providing abortion care.

Advocates also challenged Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law that requires patients seeking abortion care undergo an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion and receive medically inaccurate and misleading information, including materials containing irrelevant, misleading information, which collectively require each patient to make two trips to a facility, delaying their care.

Between 2009 and 2016, the number of medical facilities providing abortion care in Virginia has declined by more than half, a decline that coincides with an increase in Republican-backed laws aiming to restrict abortion access, according to advocates.

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“The laws we are challenging today are shutting down clinics, delaying care, increasing costs, and piling one burden on top of another in an attempt to regulate the fundamental protections of Roe v. Wade out of existence,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Wednesday’s lawsuit seeks to block the laws and have them declared unconstitutional.

According to the allegations in the complaint, over the course of decades Virginia has adopted what advocates describe as “an array of unnecessary and discriminatory laws,” that target abortion rights “without any meaningful improvement to safety or health, or any other benefits” to patients. Instead, advocates claim, the laws “serve only to negatively impact Virginians’ access to reproductive health care.”

Wednesday’s lawsuit is the latest by advocates looking to build off the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt. That decision struck as unconstitutional a series of Texas anti-choice restrictions similar to some at issue in the Virginia litigation. 

“The Whole Woman’s Health Supreme Court victory from 2016 was game-changing—affirming that abortion laws must be based on medical evidence,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance and a plaintiff in Wednesday’s lawsuit. “We’re using this new standard to affirmatively strike at the core of the Commonwealth’s burdensome restrictions, some dating back decades, that are based on ideology, not health or science.”

Since the Whole Woman’s Health decision, advocates have filed challenges to anti-choice restrictions in states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Attorneys for the Commonwealth of Virginia have not yet responded to the lawsuit.

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