Monday was the first day of what’s expected to be a two-week-long trial in a challenge to several Virginia laws restricting abortion and abortion providers.
Dr. Mark Nichols, an obstetrician/gynecologist and the former medical director for Planned Parenthood in Oregon was the first to testify. He said abortion was “one of the safest medical procedures that exist” and “doesn’t justify additional requirements in the law.” Nichols pointed out that colonoscopies have a mortality rate that’s 10 times higher than abortions.
Nichols was the first of two out-of-state experts to testify in favor of scaling back Virginia’s current abortion restrictions.
But Victoria Cobb, President of The Family Foundation took issue with Nichols’ description of abortions being virtually without complication. She said Virginia has not been collecting data on complications, so that's unclear.
"We hear abortion proponents constantly talk about the safety of a procedure. They've been unwilling to allow the data to come forward," Cobb said. "The General Assembly had bill after bill to collect data before we got to this point and they blocked it."
A group of five healthcare providers filed a lawsuit against the state last year challenging Virginia’s mandatory 24-hour delay and ultrasound requirement for patients seeking an abortion as well as a physician-only law, which bans advanced practice clinicians from performing first-trimester abortions.
Abortion rights advocates say both rules have no medical purpose outside of restricting abortion access in Virginia. Other laws being challenged in the case include additional facility licensing requirements for abortion clinics as well as the criminal penalties in place for violating those requirements.
Dr. Joanne Spetz, a professor of health economics at the University of California, San Francisco testified that there’s a nationwide trend toward broadening the scope of care Advanced Practice Clinicians like some nurses and physician’s assistants can legally provide, including abortion.
Virginia League of Planned Parenthood is one of the plaintiffs in the case. A spokesperson for the group Alexsis Rogers said they’re focused this week on illustrating why the restrictions are unnecessary.
“Making sure that we’re exemplifying, really the burden that folks face when they’re trying to seek an abortion,” Rogers said. “Whether it’s arranging childcare or coming up with the money to take off of work.”
Dr. Shantihi Ramesh, Virginia League For Planned Parenthood’s medical director, testified that the state’s existing abortion regulations in the state have limited the availability of appointment times that work for patients.
“Most of my patients are working,” Ramesh said. “Most my patients are parenting. The need is so great and the schedule is so limited.”
Attorneys for the state declined to comment. The office of Attorney General Mark Herring has hired outside counsel to defend the laws.
Herring is an outspoken supporter of abortion rights.