Court Upholds VA Abortion Ban, Further Eroding Constitutional Protections for Abortion Rights
06.24.09 - New York, NY - Today, in a 6-5 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a Virginia law that threatens doctors with criminal penalties for performing the most common method of second trimester abortion.The majority acknowledged that the ban will, in some circumstances, force physicians to stop a previability abortion mid-procedure, to the jeopardy of the patient’s health and well-being. Nonetheless, the court upheld the ban, further eroding the constitutional protections long given to women’s health.
“Today’s ruling is another stunning assault on women’s reproductive rights and on the doctors who provide abortion care,” said Stephanie Toti, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights who argued before the appellate court. “Forcing doctors to compromise women’s health for the sake of a previable fetus with no potential for survival is an outrage.”
The court also suggested that the case was premature and that the challenge should not have been filed until a patient undergoing an abortion was experiencing an immediate health risk as a result of the ban.
Five of the eleven judges dissented from the decision, pointing out that it “marks an alarming departure from settled Supreme Court precedent: it sanctions an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s right to choose.” In 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the Fourth Circuit to re-evaluate the constitutionality of the Virginia law after it upheld a more narrow federal ban in the Center’s case Gonzales v. Carhart.
In May of 2008, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit struck down the Virginia law finding that it was substantially broader than the federal law, such that “every time” a doctor set out to perform any standard second trimester abortion, "he faces the unavoidable risk of criminal prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment.”
The plaintiffs in the case, Richmond Medical Center v. Herring, are Richmond Medical Center, its staff, and patients. They are represented by Toti and Janet Crepps, deputy director of the U.S. legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights.