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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Federal judge could block Florida's abortion law



A federal judge this week could block parts of a new law that restricts abortion clinics in Florida.

Lawyers for the state and Planned Parenthood, which sued two state agencies over the law, argued their cases Wednesday before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee. 

At issue are three provisions of the law signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring:

* Blocking all taxpayer money for non-abortion services to abortion providers. These programs total $500,000, according to Planned Parenthood, and include Medicaid funds for preventative services like cancer screenings and HIV testing, as well as a teen dropout program in Palm Beach County.

* Requiring that half of all abortion records in the state -- likely at least 30,000 cases -- be inspected every year by state regulators.

* Defining the trimesters of a pregnancy, which Planned Parenthood says could limit some of their clinics by shortening the time period when they are allowed to provide abortions. Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harle said the Agency for Health Care Administration does not interpret the law in that way.

Unless Hinkle intervenes, the omnibus changes will go into effect Friday.

Harle, arguing on behalf of the state, said she believes blocking the law would be an extraordinary move because it does not appear on its face to be unconstitutional.

But Hinkle raised concerns that by defunding non-abortion services, the state might be indirectly discouraging clinics from providing them, which he said could be unconstitutional because the state cannot legally ban abortion.

"You can't de-fund based on exercising a constitutional right," he said.

State and federal money already cannot be used for abortions themselves.

"The state's not attempting to prevent (Planned Parenthood) from providing abortions," Harle said.

Carrie Flaxman, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, said the law essentially forces the group to cut back services -- or stop providing abortions, which the group does not intend to do. 

"De-funding will require the plaintiffs to end these programs, close the health center and reduce staff," she said. "Targeting abortions is not a legitimate interest in doing so."

The heightened requirements to review records would be more onerous than standards at other health facilities and would violate patients' privacy, Flaxman said.

The law also requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or clinics to have a transfer agreement. Planned Parenthood did not raise that issue in its lawsuit but Flaxman said the group is weighing its options in light of a Supreme Court ruling Monday striking down a Texas law that required abortion doctors obtain admitting privileges in that state.

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2016 12:03pm]


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