A Richmond physician’s testimony will be part of a crucial case on abortion clinics before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.
On March 2, the court is scheduled to consider whether medical advice from James Anderson and three other doctors is enough to uphold Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. At stake is whether abortion clinics should require physicians to have admitting privileges to local hospitals. The court also will decide whether clinics should adopt hospital-style building codes.
Anderson served as an expert witness in the Texas case. A faculty member for one of Virginia Commonwealth University’s residency programs, Anderson has served as an expert for abortion cases in Alabama, Alaska, North Dakota and Washington.
His testimony advocated “requiring abortion physicians to have hospital privileges,” he says, “to make sure they had the credentials and training to perform abortions safely.” He finds the argument to be supportive of poorer patients in particular.
“If the state continues to allow physicians performing abortions to avoid hospital credentialing,” he argued in court, “then, in my opinion, the state is allowing this very vulnerable group of pregnant women to be exploited.”
Women will assume that the “same standards of care will exist in elective abortions as in other outpatient surgical procedures,” he added. “In this case, more likely than not, their trust is misplaced.”
Women’s rights advocates say such testimonies are driven by ideology or religion rather than science. Because few women experience post-abortion complications, they say, abortion doctors cannot meet the quota required to gain admitting privileges.
Court documents summarize Anderson as saying that “the complication rate from abortion is generally under-reported, owing in part to reticence on the part of the patient or physician to report the abortion.”
Anderson also serves as chairman for the faith-based organization Virginia Physicians for Life, which says it “support[s] the OBGYNs, our fellow colleagues, in their opposition to abortion.” Reached at his office, he declins to comment on the affiliation, saying he’s “been burned too often by reporters with an agenda.”
In a follow-up email, Anderson says that his court testimony “made no comments on facility requirements.”
In Virginia, strict clinic codes were enforced under Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Gov. Bob McDonnell four years ago. Faced with related expenses, four Virginia clinics closed. Last year, McAuliffe repealed the requirement for existing clinics.
But Virginia’s Republican-led legislature prevents McAuliffe from controlling building codes on future clinics. During this session, a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks failed, but grabbed support from two dozen delegates and 10 senators. Delegates and pro-life advocates cite growing public opposition to abortion as reason to make it a long-haul issue in the state legislature.
A Supreme Court majority ruling would put McAuliffe’s aggressive pro-choice policies on shaky ground by allowing state Republicans to claim federal precedence for clinic restrictions. And the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia makes it possible to have a 4-4 split vote without binding precedence. Twenty-three states have signed a brief, calling on the court to make a firm decision. S