Judge Issues Injunction Blocking Florida's 15-Week Abortion Ban
Judge John Cooper of the Florida Second Circuit Court in Leon County on Thursday issued a temporary injunction blocking a Florida law, scheduled to take effect on July 1, that would ban abortions at 15 weeks' gestation. The injunction, which takes effect as soon as the judge signs it, was issued in response to a lawsuit filed against state officials by a coalition of reproductive rights groups to block the law.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 5, known as "Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality," in April. Abortion is currently legal in Florida up to 24 weeks' gestation.
The Florida Constitution guarantees individuals the right to privacy, and the plaintiffs in the suit, which include two state Planned Parenthood affiliates and a number of women's health clinics, based their challenge to H.B. 5 on that constitutional guarantee, saying in their complaint, "The Act, on its face or, in the alternative, as applied, violates the right to privacy of women seeking and obtaining abortions in the state of Florida, as guaranteed by article I, section 23 of the Florida Constitution."
In announcing his decision, Cooper said: "Florida passed into its Constitution an explicit right of privacy that is not contained in the U.S. Constitution. The Florida Supreme Court has determined, in its words, 'Florida's privacy provision is clearly implicated in a woman's decision of whether or not to continue her pregnancy.'"
The decision is expected to be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, whose seven justices were appointed by Republican governors, three by DeSantis.
Planned Parenthood noted in a statement posted on June 1: "HB 5 will force Floridians to remain pregnant against their will, violating their dignity and bodily autonomy, and endangering their families, their health, and even their lives. The impacts of pushing reproductive health care out of reach in the middle of a maternal mortality crisis will fall hardest on Black women, who are nearly three times more likely than white women to die during childbirth, or shortly after."
On June 24, DeSantis tweeted his support for the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that day in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that struck down the constitutional right to abortion nationwide affirmed in Roe v. Wade: "By properly interpreting the Constitution, the Supreme Court has answered the prayers of millions upon millions of Americans. ... Florida will continue to defend its recently-enacted pro-life reforms against state court challenges, will work to expand pro-life protections, and will stand for life by promoting adoption, foster care and child welfare."
State Republican lawmakers have already introduced anti-abortion bills, and in the wake of the Dobbs ruling, such bills could find more success. The "Florida Heartbeat Act," introduced by state Rep. Webster Barnaby last year, would have required physicians to test for what it misleadingly and incorrectly calls a "fetal heartbeat" before performing abortions and would have relied on "private civil enforcement" to implement it, encouraging a type of vigilantism also found in Texas' S.B. 8, which bans abortion at six weeks' gestation.
As gynecologist and obstetrician Jennifer Kerns told NPR for a story republished in May, "What we're really detecting [on an ultrasound] is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity. In no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart."
The Guttmacher Institute, the reproductive rights research and policy organization, designates Florida as "restrictive" with regard to abortion access in its mapping of the states post-Roe, putting it in the third-most restrictive category out of seven.
The court heard oral arguments in the case on Monday and Thursday. The New York Times reported that one of the plaintiffs, Dr. Shelly Hsiao-Ying Tien of Jacksonville, said in her testimony, "Women and girls who need abortions after 15 weeks tend to have the most challenging and compelling life circumstances," including poverty, domestic violence, and medical complications.
Restrictions on abortion in Florida affect people outside the state as well. As Politico reported on June 24, women in Georgia and Alabama, where abortion policies are more restrictive, have for many years traveled to Florida to obtain the procedure. Last year, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, 4,873 women came to the state for abortion services.
Nikki Fried, Florida's commissioner of agriculture, is running in the crowded Democratic primary to replace DeSantis as governor in November. In an interview on Fox News on June 25, Fried blasted the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs: "This is something that every single member of our Legislature and every single governor across the country needs to know that the people did not want this. Over 67% of my own state did not want a change in Roe v. Wade. And so the governor or any other Legislature continues to erode this right to privacy and this over-intrusion of government, then they're going to be voted out in November."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist held a press conference before the ruling on Thursday morning during which he vowed to aggressively pursue reproductive rights for Floridians: "I won't stop until we win the war and we have a pro-choice governor back in Tallahassee."
In a statement released by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Kelley Flynn, president and CEO of A Woman's Choice clinics, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said: "While Floridians may soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief, make no mistake, abortion access is in real peril in our state. Already, lawmakers have made it incredibly difficult for our patients to access the essential health care they need and for us to provide that care."
Immediately after Cooper announced his decision, Fried tweeted, "The 15-week abortion ban was just ruled unconstitutional in Florida. Because it is. We won't go back. We will keep fighting."
Reprinted with permission from American Independent.