Virginia's Abortion Ban Challenged in Federal Court

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Ban Threatens Women’s Health by Preventing Doctors from Performing Safe Procedures
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Richmond, VA

Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case in federal court challenging Virginia’s abortion procedures ban as an unconstitutional threat to women’s health. The vaguely worded ban – which contains no exception to protect women’s health – would subject doctors to heavy fines and imprisonment for performing the safest second trimester abortion procedure, as well as common obstetrical procedures. The Center is seeking an immediate injunction against the law, as it is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2003.

"This law would make it illegal for women to obtain abortions in the second trimester using the safest and most common method, even when deemed appropriate by their doctor, and even when their health is at risk," said Suzanne Novak, staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead counsel on the case. "Attempts to pass similar laws have been struck down by courts across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court, for placing an undue burden on women’s right to choose."

The law, deceptively called the "partial-birth infanticide" act, is similar to the federal abortion ban that President Bush is expected to enact this summer. Like the federal ban, this law contains no health exception and would prohibit doctors from performing the safest abortion procedure used after the first trimester. In fact, the law is written in such a way that doctors could even face criminal prosecution for attending to women who have suffered miscarriages. Doctors could face a felony conviction for violating the law with the threat of 10 years imprisonment and a possible fine of up to $100,000.

Just three years ago, in Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court struck down a similar Nebraska law banning so-called "partial-birth abortion." In that case, successfully argued by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Court struck down the Nebraska statute for failing to include a health exception and for banning a variety of procedures used starting as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy.

While anti-choice proponents of such laws continue to claim that they are bans on "late-term" abortions, the reality is that this law makes no distinction between pre-viability and post-viability abortion procedures. Moreover, post-viability abortions are already illegal in 41 states, including Virginia, unless the life or health of the pregnant woman is at serious risk. Currently, Virginia bans abortions after the second trimester unless the attending physician and two other physicians certify in writing that the continuation of the pregnancy will result in the woman’s death or severely harm her physical or mental health.

Plaintiffs in Richmond Medical Center for Women v. David M. Hicks include a health clinic, a doctor, their staff and their patients. Suzanne Novak of the Center for Reproductive Rights represents the plaintiffs along with attorney Susan A. Kessler, of the firm Blackburn, Conte, Schilling and Click, P.C. in Richmond.