RICHMOND, Virginia — A federal judge on Monday upheld a Virginia law requiring women to undergo an ultrasound and wait at least 24 hours before having an abortion, as well as the state's "physician-only law" barring nurse practitioners and physician's assistants from performing abortions.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson came in a lawsuit that challenged four Virginia laws that opponents say restrict access to abortion in the state.
The lawsuit was one of more than a dozen filed around the country challenging what abortion-rights groups call TRAP laws — Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers. A trial in Richmond, the state capital, began in the spring as the abortion debate exploded nationwide. Several states had passed strict new laws limiting abortions, including Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio and Kentucky.
On Monday, Hudson struck down two other state laws, including one requiring all second-trimester abortions to be performed at a licensed outpatient hospital. The judge agreed with opponents that the procedure can be safely performed at clinics and doctor's offices.
Hudson also overturned regulations that would have required clinics that provide first-trimester abortions to meet the same facility requirements as general and surgical hospitals.
Women's reproductive rights groups that brought the lawsuit expressed disappointment with the mixed ruling.
"We're disappointed that our patients did not get their constitutionally-protected right to accessing healthcare without legislative interference, which they are entitled to and they deserve," said a statement from Rosemary Codding, the founder and director of the Falls Church Healthcare Center.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and chief executive officer of Whole Woman's Health Alliance, said the group is pleased that the court relaxed state restrictions on second-trimester abortion care, but disappointed that the judge "did not see clearly how the other restrictions it left in force are not supported by medical evidence and place undue burdens on families on the Commonwealth."
The plaintiffs at trial opted to have a judge decide the case instead of a jury.
During the trial, a lawyer for the women's health groups argued that the regulations are overly restrictive and put up "unnecessary barriers" to women seeking abortions.
A doctor testified that abortion "is one of the safest medical procedures that exist."
Dr. Mark Nichols, an obstetrician/gynecologist who worked for years as the medical director of a Planned Parenthood chapter in Oregon, testified that the laws being challenged in Virginia add layers of regulation that are not medically necessary.
The state argued that the laws have made abortion clinics safer and have not placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions.
"Inconvenience is not an unconstitutional burden," said Emily Munro Scott, an attorney representing the state.