Abortion Ban in Virginia After Supreme Court Ruling

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Courtesy of Tom Driggers (Flickr CC0)

Virginia has the country’s most restrictive abortion law. It’s called HB 1353, or the 15-week abortion bill. Abortion is legal in Virginia until the 20th week of pregnancy (the time at which an individual fetus can survive on its own outside of a womb). After that time, women must travel out of state to get an abortion. Surgical abortions after the 15th week are also prohibited, but medication may be taken until then. The law applies to hospitals, outpatient surgical facilities, and any physician who performs an abortion. The law is especially harmful to low-income women and women of color living in rural areas with few options for getting an abortion outside their home state. HB 1353 does not require any testing or proof that a fetus can feel pain by this point in pregnancy; instead, it uses vague terms like “neuronal network” and “continuous ventilation” that can be interpreted differently by opposing views.

The Virginia House of Delegates is expected to take up a bill in the coming weeks that would allow young women to obtain the procedure without parental consent if they are physically and emotionally unable to have children in the future. But, Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin will seek a prohibition on most abortions.

The state’s law would be similar to a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled earlier this month in favor of an undocumented teen who had been prevented from getting an abortion, which made it possible for minors younger than 18 without notifying their parents or getting permission from a judge.

Under state law, young women must first inform and get permission from their parents before having an abortion; however, those younger than 16 must also get permission from a judge. Young women older than 16 must also get permission from a judge if they are “emotionally dependent” on their parents or if they were born outside of the United States and will not be allowed to return home after having the procedure. This bill will extend these provisions to girls younger than 18 without requiring judicial involvement if they are determined by physicians or psychologists as unlikely to have children in the future.

Key Facts About Reproductive Health and Rights in Virginia

Abortion was legalized in Virginia in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional as part of a woman’s right to privacy. Since then, Virginia has had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, requiring that women undergo mandatory counseling, wait 24 hours, and have their cases reviewed by a judge before they are allowed to have an abortion. This process is cumbersome, time-consuming, and, in many cases, unnecessary.

Abortion
Courtesy of University of Toronto Students for life (Flickr CC0)

How Has the Law Played Out?

After the Supreme Court ruling in June, the law was immediately implemented in a handful of clinics in Virginia. The law is currently in effect in just one clinic in the state. A week after the high court’s decision, two anti-abortion groups sued the state of Texas to stop it from enforcing the law requiring counseling and a judge’s approval before an underage girl could obtain an abortion.

The Texas law was meant to protect young women who may have been sexually assaulted or became pregnant due to a sexual assault. Still, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the groups who argued that the law was meant to shut down abortions altogether. The court agreed with the anti-abortion groups that the law was constitutional but did not say whether the law was intended to shut down all abortions for underage girls or just those involving girls younger than 17.

Why Is This Bill Necessary?

It’s hard to know precisely how many girls younger than 18 have an abortion in Virginia without conducting an investigation since the procedure is so secretive that it’s hard to obtain statistics on it. A report from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that studies reproductive health and rights, puts the number of abortions in Virginia at about 12,000 yearly. Still, it’s not clear whether a significant number of those go on to be minors. Advocates for pregnant children say there isn’t a process to protect young women who may have been sexually assaulted. Under the law, the young woman must first have the judge approve the abortion and then have the person performing the abortion judge whether or not she is “emotionally dependent” on her parents. In cases like this, where an underage girl is raped and is uncertain whether she wants to have the child, experts say it’s better if she doesn’t.

Critical Unanswered Questions About the Bill’s Effects

  • In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June, how many girls younger than 18 will seek an abortion without notifying their parents?
  • How many can girls under the current law have an abortion without having to inform their parents, who may be abusive or who may not want them to have an abortion?
  • How many girls likely to become pregnant will seek an abortion if they don’t have to get permission from a judge under current law?
  • How many other clinics will abandon their current practice of meeting the law requirements to remain compliant with the Supreme Court ruling?

Conclusion

The ruling in June by the U.S. Supreme Court was a significant victory for women’s rights in many ways, but it also raised concerns that the ruling could force some abortion clinics to close. While the decision didn’t directly affect Virginia, the state is geographically close to Texas, and the legislation has already had an effect. The Supreme Court’s decision to side with Texas in the case of the undocumented teen was partly motivated by the potential adverse effects the ruling could have on the state’s abortion laws. As states pass restrictive abortion laws, lawmakers must be prepared for these unexpected consequences. The Supreme Court’s decision to side with Texas in the case of the undocumented teen was partly motivated by the potential adverse effects the ruling could have on the state’s abortion laws. If the “Human Life Act” passes in Virginia, it would likely have similar results to the “Parental Consent Law” in Texas, forcing many clinics out of business and further limiting access to abortion for women in the state.

Written by Janet Grace Ortigas

Sources:

The Washington Post: Youngkin to seek 15-week abortion law in Virginia after Supreme Court ruling; by Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella
NBC Washington: Abortion Laws in DC, Maryland, Virginia: What Happens After Roe v. Wade Ruling
Politico: Youngkin will pursue 15-week abortion ban in Virginia; by Myad Ward

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Tom Driggers‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of University of Toronto Students for life‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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