To have an abortion in Virginia, a woman by law must undergo an ultrasound and listen to state-mandated information designed to shame her. She must then wait 24 hours before having the abortion. There is no medical reason - absolutely none - for this requirement. It just makes it harder and more costly to have an abortion. That is exactly what Republican lawmakers had in mind when they imposed this and other abortion restrictions, so it’s more than a little distressing that a federal judge has let them get away with it.
“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,” wrote U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, acknowledging the difficulties confronting low-income women. Nonetheless, in a 67-page decision issued Sept. 30, he upheld the law because he said he was not convinced that it “amounts to a substantial obstacle preventing women’s access to abortion in Virginia.” On a more welcome note, the ruling struck down regulations that required clinics providing early-stage abortions to meet the same facility requirements as surgical hospitals and that limited all second-trimester abortions to licensed outpatient hospitals.
The Virginia laws, subject of a challenge by abortion providers, fall under the category of targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. Ostensibly, they are presented as ways to safeguard women’s health, but in truth they are a means of chipping away at abortion access and undermining the protections of Roe v. Wade. Abortions in the United States are safe, complications are exceedingly rare, and unnecessary requirements such as waiting periods or superfluous tests can result in delays that cause real problems or an inability to terminate a pregnancy.
A critical test for TRAP laws is in the offing with the Supreme Court’s announcement Friday that it will hear a case concerning a Louisiana law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The Louisiana law is almost identical to a law in Texas that was struck down by the court in 2016. But the makeup of the court has changed, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy; how the court rules will determine whether states feel free to pass even more restrictive laws.
Plaintiffs in the Virginia case are deciding whether to appeal Hudson’s decision. Depending on the outcome of next month’s elections, they may have a better avenue for relief than the courts. All 140 seats of the General Assembly are on the Nov. 5 ballot, and if the Republicans lose their slim control, the prospects for abortion rights are sure to improve.