Judge’s decision to temporarily block Florida’s 15-week abortion ban puts law in legal limbo

Published: July 1, 2022 8:57 AM EDT
Updated: July 1, 2022 9:08 AM EDT
FILE - Abortion-rights protesters demonstrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Saturday, June 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe, File)

A Florida judge on Thursday said he would temporarily block a 15-week abortion ban from taking effect, following a court challenge by reproductive health providers who say the state constitution guarantees a right to the procedure.

Judge John C. Cooper made the oral ruling from the bench but his decision will not go into effect until he signs a written order, which Cooper said would likely happen next week. The law goes into effect Friday, meaning it will be in place for a few days before the order is signed.

In his ruling, Cooper said Florida’s law was “unconstitutional in that it violates the privacy provision of the Florida Constitution.”

Planned Parenthood calls this temporary block life-saving and a glimmer of hope. They said that Floridians already face challenges while trying to get abortions and this directly affects young women and women of color.

“In Miami-Dade, we have one of the highest rates of uninsured people and this primarily affects women of color, low income, young people under the age of 18 who may not be able to navigate the system. As well as people with wanted pregnancies who don’t find out that there is a medical issue until they get that anatomy scan between 15-20 weeks,” said Laura Goodhue, VP of Public Policy at Planned Parenthood of Florida.

“If the United States Supreme Court were to subsequently recede from Roe v. Wade this would not diminish the abortion rights now provided by the privacy amendment of the Florida constitution,” said Judge John C. Cooper.

Abortion rights activists are thankful for the decision.

Planned Parenthood said today is a hopeful day and that it is cruel to force someone to remain pregnant against their will.

“We’re really talking about the most vulnerable people in our community, these are the survivors of rape, incest and the last thing on their mind was finding out if they were pregnant,” said Goodhue.

Meanwhile, those against abortion say they’re still hopeful.

“We’re hopeful that the injunction…the temporary injunction will be lifted and that the 15-week law will ultimately be upheld,” said Christie Arnold, Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The decision came days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, ending federal protections for abortions and reigniting fierce battles in state courts and legislatures over access to the procedure.

“Today’s court decision correctly upheld an important freedom of all Floridians; the right to privacy. Ron DeSantis’ unconstitutional law was a gross interference in personal medical decisions that should be between patients and their doctors. Politicians like the Governor have no business restricting Floridians’ health freedoms,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz in a statement.

Florida Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book issued a statement in which she also applauded the judge’s decision.

“Just hours before Florida’s cruel 15-week abortion ban with no exceptions for survivors of sexual assault was set to take effect, a judge rightfully ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The clear overreaches were exposed and the ruling reaffirms that the rights of women, girls, and sexual assault survivors in Florida will not be further eroded,” she wrote.

Florida’s 15-week abortion ban was passed by the GOP-controlled statehouse and signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring. It was set to take effect Friday.

DeSantis’ office issued the following statement following the judge’s decision.

“While we are disappointed with today’s ruling, we know that the pro-life HB 5 will ultimately withstand all legal challenges. The Florida Supreme Court previously misinterpreted Florida’s right to privacy as including a right to an abortion, and we reject this interpretation. The Florida Constitution does not include-and has never included-a right to kill an innocent unborn child. We will appeal today’s ruling and ask the Florida Supreme Court to reverse its existing precedent regarding Florida’s right to privacy. The struggle for life is not over.”

DeSantis’ office said it would appeal the ruling and has pledged to “expand pro-life protections” in the future.

Nikki Fried, Commissioner of Agriculture, who’s also running for Governor, made a statement, saying that while Thursday is a day to celebrate, they cannot stop fighting for women’s access to safe abortion procedures.

The law prohibits abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions if the procedure is necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life, prevent serious injury or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow for exemptions in cases where pregnancies were caused by rape, incest or human trafficking. Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks.

Violators could face up to five years in prison. Physicians and other medical professionals could lose their licenses and face administrative fines of $10,000 for each violation.

The legal challenge in Florida hinges on a 1980 amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing a broad right to privacy, which has been interpreted by the state Supreme Court to include abortion. Florida voters reaffirmed the right to privacy in 2012 by rejecting a ballot initiative that would have weakened its protections, plaintiffs said.

“Despite Florida’s history of protecting the right to abortion, the Florida legislature recently engaged in a brazen attempt to override the will of the Florida people,” the abortion providers said.

The state argued in court papers that abortion providers don’t have standing to make a claim of a personal right to privacy since they were acting as third parties on behalf of their patients. Attorneys for the state also maintained that the state’s constitutional right to privacy doesn’t include the right to abortion, arguing that the state has an interest in safeguarding health and protecting potential life.

During testimony this week, witnesses for the state focused primarily on the potential for fetal pain as well as health risks to women who receive abortions late in pregnancy. A witness for Planned Parenthood told the judge that the law would disproportionately affect poor women.

The delay between the signing of an order temporarily blocking the law and the law’s Friday implementation date creates an added layer of confusion, said Goodhue.

“It’s extremely challenging for doctors to work with this but they are, and the most important thing is that planned parenthood is still seeing people,” she said. “It’s a lot of unnecessary delays and patients are at the whims of the legal system right now.”

Data shows the majority of abortions in Florida occur before 15 weeks. A CDC report said about 2% of the nearly 72,000 abortions reported in Florida in 2019 were performed after 15 weeks.