TALLAHASSEE — Women in Florida will no longer be required to wait 24 hours before having an abortion — at least for now.
The Florida Supreme Court on Friday tapped the brakes on the controversial state law, which requires women to visit a doctor in person a full day before an abortion. It's the latest twist in a protracted legal fight that began last summer after the measure was passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Gainesville abortion clinic Bread and Roses Women's Health Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sued the state, claiming the law violates broad privacy protections under the Florida Constitution. A Tallahassee circuit court still hasn't ruled on that question. The fight has so far focused on an injunction that had stopped the law from initially going into effect.
For about a day in July, the law was in effect before a judge issued the injunction. Then, on Feb. 26, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled in the state's favor, allowing the waiting period to become state law while the lawsuit moved forward.
The Supreme Court's 5-2 ruling on Friday, however, puts the law's implementation back on hold while the state's highest justices decide whether to accept the case.
"We hope the court will ultimately agree that Florida women are capable of making decisions about their health and their families without political interference," said Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, "and that the Florida Constitution tolerates nothing less."
But the law's supporters criticized the court's move as "overreaching" and part of a pattern of the justices ruling against the state Legislature's decisions.
"It appears that several of our Justices seem to believe it is their job to invalidate any action of the legislature, regardless of the law and constitution," House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement. "I do hope that our next appointees will have a better understanding and appreciation for the true role of our Courts."
Whitney Ray, a spokesman for Attorney General Pam Bondi, said they are "waiting to see if the Florida Supreme Court accepts jurisdiction so we can continue to defend the law."
Supporters of the waiting period say it ensures women have time to consider the decision and protects them from being pressured by their partner or a doctor. And, said bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, it doesn't violate the Constitution.
"It's something that, when I wrote the language, I gave a lot of care to," Sullivan told the Times/Herald in February.
However, opponents say the extra doctor's visit is an unnecessary burden, especially for poor women who may have limited access to transportation or find it difficult to take multiple days off work to have two appointments at a far-away clinic.
"The people of Florida care deeply about preventing unwarranted governmental interference with their private decisions, and that is exactly what this law does," Kaye said, arguing against the legislation in the 1st District Court in February.
Contact Michael Auslen at [email protected] Follow @MichaelAuslen.