Closing arguments made in Virginia abortion law trial

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal judge in Richmond is being asked to decide whether four Virginia abortion laws create mere inconveniences or undue burdens for women seeking abortions.

During closing arguments Thursday in a lawsuit challenging the laws, an attorney for women's health groups said the regulations are medically unnecessary and limit women's access to abortion.

"The benefits must outweigh its demonstrated burdens, and here they do not," said Jenny Ma, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The case is one of more than a dozen lawsuits filed around the country seeking to lift restrictions on abortion clinics at a time when some states are passing tough new anti-abortion laws, including Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio and Kentucky.

One of the laws being challenged in Virginia is a physician-only regulation that bars nurse practitioners and physician assistants from performing abortions.

The lawsuit also seeks to overturn Virginia laws mandating that: all second-trimester abortions are performed at an outpatient surgical hospital or general hospital; women must get an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure; and abortion providers who perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month must undergo licensing requirements.

Ma told U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson that testimony from medical experts during the nine-day trial showed that abortion is a common and safe procedure, with a lower complication rate than many other medical procedures, including colonoscopies and tonsillectomies.

Ma said the regulations put up "unnecessary barriers" to women seeking abortions and urged Hudson to declare the laws unconstitutional.

But Emily Munro Scott, a lawyer for the state, urged Hudson to uphold the laws. She said the regulations have made abortion clinics safer and have not placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

Scott said the plaintiffs provided no compelling evidence that abolishing the physician-only law will curtail access to abortions in Virginia. She said evidence presented during the trial showed there is a "clear benefit" to requiring that second-trimester abortions be performed in hospitals because the risk of complications increases with gestational age.

"Inconvenience is not an unconstitutional burden," Scott said.

The case will be decided by Hudson, not a jury. He gave attorneys on both sides until June 20 to submit final legal briefs. The judge did not indicate when he expects to issue his ruling.

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