RICHMOND, Va. — Testimony for what’s expected to be a two-week-long trial challenging a dozen of Virginia’s abortion laws began Monday.
The trial begins as the abortion debate intensifies across the country. New anti-abortion laws have been passed in several states, including Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio and Kentucky.
A group of women’s health clinics based in Virginia are bringing the case forward against a number of state officials – including Health Commissioner Norman Oliver. The judge said between 5,000 and 7,000 documents have been submitted as evidence for the case. This is a non-jury trial, so the federal judge will make the final ruling.
Some of the laws being called into question have been on the books for 40 years. These include the 24-hour mandatory waiting period for patients seeking an abortion, hospital-like building codes for facilities as well as physicians being the only ones allowed to perform the procedure.
Lawyers for the health groups started the trial by calling Dr. Mark Nichols to the stand. He trains healthcare providers on how to do abortions in Oregon, and explained to the court what procedures can be performed during different stages of pregnancy.
While on the stand, Dr. Nichols said abortions are “safe medical procedures” and are sometimes “safer than other outpatient procedures,” such as colonoscopies, because of the low rate of complications patients face. His opinion was developed from various research studies.
When it comes to the law, this witness believed the laws in question are “not medically necessary.” When asked by the firm representing the state, Nichols noted that while complications don’t happen often, some would require a woman to be hospitalized.
The Virginia League of Planned Parenthood is one of the women’s health groups involved in the case. The Communications Director says the current laws are restrictive and make it harder for women to get abortion care.
“[Patients] may not be able to come back the next day. It has to be when the next appointment is available with the physician,” Virginia League of Planned Parenthood Communications Director Alexsis Rodgers said. “So that might mean arranging childcare, time off work, extended travel arrangements, and that really limits access to healthcare for folks who need it.”
Given the right training, Dr. Nichols said nurse practitioners and physicians assistants could also safely perform abortions. Currently, these healthcare providers can insert IUDs, do endometrial biopsies as well as assist with miscarriage management. One of the procedures used after a miscarriage is the same as an abortion, Dr. Nichols says.
Critics of this opinion, like the Victoria Cobb of the Family Foundation of Virginia, say abortions are only as safe as the regulations and restrictions on them. Evidence expected to be heard in the trial, she says, shows current protocols for abortions aren’t being followed well enough.
“We’re looking forward to the truth coming forward instead of as opposed to simply trying to upend long-standing good public policy,” she said. “All eyes are on Virginia and some other states that are in the middle of this controversy.”
The trial is expected to go on for two weeks. Tomorrow Whole Woman’s Health, a clinic based in Charlottesville, is slated to go on the stand.