Health providers and reproductive rights groups have filed two separate lawsuits against Virginia and Indiana over the states' years-old abortion laws, arguing that the restrictions place an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to choosing an abortion.
The restrictions being challenged in Virginia include the state's 24-hour waiting period, a requirement for abortion providers to comply with hospital-style building standards, and mandating that second trimester abortions are performed in hospitals instead of clinics. The Indiana lawsuit is also tackling dozens of restrictions, including the state's 24-hour waiting period, requiring that second-trimester abortions be performed at ambulatory surgical center (ASC) or hospitals, restrictions on telemedicine, and forcing physicians to provide state-mandated, scientifically unproven information about the abortion procedure.
"In Texas, Virginia, and now in Indiana, we have joined forces with our allies to fight for women’s access to quality abortion care without a maze of obstacles," Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "The Whole Woman’s Health Supreme Court victory was game-changing—affirming that abortion laws must be based on medical evidence. We’re using this new standard to challenge dozens of other restrictions, some dating back decades, that are based on ideology, not health or science."
These types of legal challenges are a reaction to the anti-abortion lobby upping up its efforts in recent years, hoping to make abortion totally illegal in the U.S. once again. The push for more abortion restrictions has particularly intensified under the Trump-Pence administration, since anti-abortion advocates have been emboldened by the administration's anti-choice stance. (Just this year, congressional Republicans tried to implement a nationwide 20-week abortion ban, while at the state level Iowa tried to ban abortion at 6 weeks and both Louisiana and Mississippi tried to do so at 15 weeks.)
If advocates and providers can now challenge also laws they consider place an undue burden on patients is thanks to the landmark 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the first major abortion-related legal challenge in a generation.
The first lawsuit of this kind was filed on the one-year anniversary of Whole Woman’s last June, when the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) sued Louisiana over several years-old anti-abortion laws. This April, CRR also challenged dozens of abortion laws in Mississippi. Whole Woman's Health Alliance joined the fight in Texas last week, suing the state over its abortion restrictions.
The groups leading the challenge against Virginia are Falls Church Healthcare Center, Whole Woman's Health of Charlottesville, A Capital Women's Health Clinic, and the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood. In Indiana, Whole Woman's Health Alliance and All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center are the plaintiffs of the lawsuit.
“As a physician who dedicates my career to the health and well-being of women, I know firsthand just how difficult these medically unnecessary laws are on patients in need of care. In fact, women seeking a safe, legal abortion after the first trimester have only two health center options in the state because of medically unnecessary restrictions," Dr. Shanthi Ramesh, medical director of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, said in a statement provided to Refinery29.
She added: "Limiting women’s access to only two medical facilities only creates more burdens and delays care. As a result, some women are unable to access safe, legal abortion at all because of loss of income from time off work, or cost for child care or travel. It’s time to strike these laws down once and for all and focus on shaping policies that expand access to reproductive health care including safe, legal abortion."