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Planned Parenthood chapters, abortion providers challenge Florida’s 15-week ban

A lawsuit filed on Wednesday says the new state law violates the constitutional right to privacy.
More than 1,000 activists gathered in downtown Tampa on May 14, 2022, in conjunction with hundreds of rallies in support of abortion rights held coast to coast and in Hawaii. The “Bans off our Bodies” rallies were organized after a leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court decision suggests it will overturn Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion.
More than 1,000 activists gathered in downtown Tampa on May 14, 2022, in conjunction with hundreds of rallies in support of abortion rights held coast to coast and in Hawaii. The “Bans off our Bodies” rallies were organized after a leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court decision suggests it will overturn Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jun. 1|Updated Jun. 1

Several Florida Planned Parenthood chapters and individual abortion providers filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the state’s new 15-week abortion ban.

The groups filed suit against the state of Florida, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Department of Health and every judicial circuit’s state attorney. The suit says the legislation violates Florida’s constitutional privacy clause, which has been interpreted for the past several decades as protecting access to abortion.

Abortion providers are seeking an injunction to keep the bill from going into effect on July 1.

The state’s 15-week cap does not offer an exception for rape or incest. It does provide exceptions if a pregnancy is life-threatening or if a fetus has a fatal abnormality.

If health care providers violate the law, they could face criminal prosecution and the loss of their medical license, according to the lawsuit.

“With no one available to provide such care in Florida, Florida women will suffer irreparable harm to their autonomy, their well-being, and their dignity, in violation of their rights under the Florida Constitution,” the lawsuit says.

Bryan Griffin, a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said the governor’s office is “confident that this law will ultimately withstand all legal challenges.”

The sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said she stands by the legislation.

“The bill I sponsored ensures our laws protect innocent, unborn, 15-week-old babies who can move, taste, see, and feel pain,” she said in an emailed statement. “It is constitutional and will be upheld by the courts.”

House bill sponsor Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Before the bill, Florida allowed abortion until the third trimester of pregnancy — about 24 weeks. The new law was modeled after a Mississippi law being considered by the Supreme Court.

A draft opinion on that case was leaked in early May. The leaked draft, which was confirmed as real by Chief Justice John Roberts, indicated the court may be poised to overturn the precedent set by the landmark Roe v. Wade case and return the decision around abortion protections to states.

Florida’s Constitution has an explicit privacy clause that says, “Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein.”

For the past several decades, Florida courts have held that the clause protects the right to abortion. But some legal experts feel that, in a post-Roe world, Florida’s precedent could mean little, and an increasingly conservative state Supreme Court could overturn it.

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Daniel Tilley, the legal director of ACLU of Florida, which is representing the plaintiffs, said Florida’s Supreme Court justices have always concluded that the privacy clause extends to abortion. He said any other interpretation would “be a radical departure from not only their own precedent but from the text of the Florida Constitution.”

The lawsuit argues the 15-week abortion ban intrudes on individuals’ rights by requiring some people to “give birth against their will” or to have to travel outside the state to have an abortion “at great personal burden and expense.”

About 75% of those receiving abortions are low-income, according to the lawsuit, and travel is not possible for all of them. Continuing with an unwanted pregnancy can cause physical, mental and emotional health damage, the lawsuit says.

In Florida, the majority of abortions are performed before 15 weeks.

Tilley said the consequences could be deadly and are likely to disproportionately fall on Black women, who already have higher maternal mortality rates.

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