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New abortion law to stay blocked for now

Published Jul. 31, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's new law that places restrictions on abortion clinics will remain blocked for now.

Gov. Rick Scott is not going to appeal a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who in June put a temporary hold on portions of the law while a lawsuit seeking to overturn it makes its way through federal court.

Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, said his administration will continue to defend the law in federal court but said state agencies will not appeal the injunction "to avoid greater uncertainty while we await the court's decision."

"Governor Scott is a pro-life governor who believes in the sanctity of life," Schutz said in an email. "Governor Scott is continuing to fight for this legislation in court, which was passed with significant support in the legislature."

Hinkle blocked the law just hours before it was scheduled to take effect. The measure passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Scott prevents state funds from going to an organization that provides abortions. It also added new inspection requirements on abortion clinics.

Planned Parenthood challenged three parts of the law, including the one that deals with funding, which it said would prevent its clinics from receiving about $500,000 to pay for health care screenings and a school dropout prevention program.

Hinkle ruled the law was unconstitutional, stating, "The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly — by withholding otherwise-available public funds — conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly."

Hinkle also blocked enforcement of another part of the new law that would have required an annual state inspection of the medical records of half of all clinic patients, which Planned Parenthood estimated would be about 35,000 people a year.

Similar to a Texas law struck down this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Florida law requires doctors who perform abortions to have privileges at a nearby hospital. But Planned Parenthood attorneys did not challenge that provision, and Hinkle's ruling did not address that part of the law.

Legislators who passed the law this year said they were doing so in order to protect women's health. Attorneys for the state argued before Hinkle that he should let the law stand because there was nothing in it that interferes with Planned Parenthood clinics from performing abortions or burdens "the right of women to undergo abortions."

The court action this week was just a new chapter in a long-running battle over abortion in the Sunshine State. Since the GOP assumed control of the Legislature two decades ago, legislators have enacted a series of bills, only to see many of them overturned in the courts.

The Florida Supreme Court in April suspended a 24-hour waiting period for abortions while it decides whether that law is constitutional.

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