Legal wrangling over a new state law restricting doctors’ ability to perform abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy has left some patients’ access to the procedures in limbo, at least for now.
The abortion law (HB 5), one of the 2022 legislative session’s most hotly contested measures, went into effect Friday. But a day before the law was set to take hold, a Leon County circuit judge ruled that it is unconstitutional and said he would issue a temporary injunction to block the statute from being enforced.
Judge John Cooper ruled that the abortion law violates a privacy clause in the state Constitution, which for more than three decades has played a key role in bolstering abortion rights in Florida.
Abortion clinics across the state and a physician filed the lawsuit challenging the new statute.
Cooper differentiated between the state constitutional issues in the Florida case and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week that struck down the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling.
“I do think that this order complies with the present state of the law in Florida. And we all know that Roe v. Wade was reversed about a week ago. And the only mention Roe v. Wade should get in this particular case … is that it has indicated the (U.S.) Supreme Court (said) that these decisions are to be made at the state level. That’s what this proceeding is about, is construing a provision of the Florida Constitution,” Cooper said.
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A procedural quirk allowed the law to take hold, at least temporarily, despite Cooper’s ruling. The judge issued a verbal ruling from the bench Thursday, which he said will not be binding until he signs a written order. That written order could come Tuesday morning.
The state, meanwhile, is almost certain to appeal Cooper’s ruling on the same day that a written order surfaces. When the state files an appeal at the 1st District Court of Appeal, it will automatically trigger a stay of Cooper’s order — which would put the law back into effect.
Lauren Brenzel, organizing director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, called Cooper’s ruling a “victory.” But Brenzel described uncertainty about whether post-15-week abortions will be available as potentially creating confusion for patients.
“It’s really unfortunate, and this shows us exactly why politicians should not be interfering with access to health care. Imagine being a patient right now and trying to access safe care that should be legal in our state, and you’re having to worry about whether or not they’ll be able to provide it to you on one day or the other,” Brenzel told reporters outside the Leon County courtroom Thursday.
Hours later, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Cooper’s ruling was “not unanticipated” and vowed to appeal the decision.
DeSantis’ deputy press secretary Bryan Griffin said the Florida Supreme Court “misinterpreted” the privacy clause.
“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,” Griffin said in a statement.