March for Life
Virginia March for Life, April 2019

Even Federal judges can have second thoughts, apparently.

Days after issuing an order overturning a Virginia law holding that only licensed doctors can perform abortions, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson reversed himself, reinstating the rule.

Hudson’s initial ruling came in response to pre-trial motions in a suit filed in 2018 that is just now headed to trial.

The Virginia League for Planned Parenthood and a collection of abortion providers sued to overturn virtually all of the Commonwealth’s regulation of abortion and abortion clinics.

Under existing law, only licensed physicians can perform abortions. Planned Parenthood and the other groups suing argue that the rule puts an undue burden on women seeking an abortion, as it significantly limits the number of providers.

Lawyers for the Commonwealth counter that the law is necessary to protect women. Serious complications could require medical intervention, which necessitates the need for a licensed physician. Hudson’s initial ruling vacated that rule for first trimester abortions.

Abortion rights groups hailed Hudson’s initial ruling as a landmark.

“This decision will change the abortion care landscape in Virginia,” said Jenny Ma, an attorney representing the Center for Reproductive Rights after the initial ruling. “More medical professionals will now be able to provide abortion care, which means more women will be able to access this constitutional right.”

Hudson’s opinion found that the safety argument didn’t hold water, as both sides seemed to agree that first trimester abortions were generally safe.

The “consensus appears to have evolved that first trimester abortions, which typically require only medication, do not require the onsite presence of a licensed physician and (the rule) is consequently unduly burdensome,” he wrote in the opinion last week.

But after further arguments, Hudson said the issued is not settled, and should go to trial to further develop the factual record. The matter will now be heard at a trial starting next week.

Abortion is an unexpected hot-button issue in Virginia this year. After years of virtually no political movement on the issue, Democrats were caught flat-footed when questioned about a bill that would repeal certain restrictions on late term abortion.

The bill, patroned by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, sparked a national firestorm. Tran said at a hearing that her bill would permit abortion up until the moment of birth.

Democratic Governor Ralph Northam poured rhetorical fuel on the fire in a radio interview days later, suggesting that withholding lifesaving care from disabled or critically-ill newborns should be left to the discretion of the mother, and not automatically provided.