Federal judge strikes down law blocking state money from abortion clinics

Published Aug. 19, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge on Thursday threw out key parts of an abortion law that would have blocked all state funding to clinics such as Planned Parenthood and required the inspection of as many as 35,000 women's health records.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle made permanent an earlier decision to temporarily halt those portions of the law from going into effect while a lawsuit filed against the state by Planned Parenthood was ongoing.

Earlier this month, the two parties reached an agreement to end the suit. In it, health officials agreed to the terms of Hinkle's earlier ruling.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the abortion law this spring. It blocked state and local money from preventive services such as sexually transmitted disease and cancer screenings at abortion clinics. State law already bans taxpayer-funded abortions.

Planned Parenthood said it stood to lose $500,0000 in government contracts for Medi­caid services and education programs as a result of the law and sued. The state contracts have already been renewed, said Laura Goodhue, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates executive director. She's hoping local governments will again provide grants to Planned Parenthood in the future.

In his earlier ruling, Hinkle said that portion of the law discouraged clinics from performing abortions, which he said is unconstitutional.

"You can't defund based on exercising a constitutional right," he told lawyers for the state during a court hearing in June.

He also threw out a requirement that the state review records for half of the abortions performed each year, which generally exceed 70,000.

Technically, the state could appeal the ruling. However, because lawyers for the state and Planned Parenthood requested that the judge make his injunction permanent, that would appear unlikely.

Scott's office has not yet said what it intends to do. It is "reviewing" the ruling, spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Some parts of the abortion law remain in effect, including a requirement that physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or that clinics have a transfer agreement.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a law that forced Texas abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges, no one has challenged that part of the Florida law. Goodhue said Planned Parenthood doesn't have any plans to do so at this time.

Contact Michael Auslen at Follow @MichaelAuslen.