1. Florida Politics

Florida's abortion waiting period back in court

Florida Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.
Florida Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.
Published Jul. 19, 2017

The Florida Supreme Court put a temporary block on a 2015 law requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting abortions, but a Tallahassee judge is holding a hearing today on a request by opponents to find the law unconstitutional.

February's Supreme Court decision was the second time a majority of justices kept the law, approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott, from taking effect.

Critics of the law, which would require women to make at least two visits to health-care providers before being able to have abortions, argue that the waiting period is an unconstitutional violation of the right to privacy.

But supporters of the law maintain that the proposal gives women more time to consider the impact of the procedure.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is slated to consider arguments in the case in a hearing Wednesday.

In documents filed with the court, lawyers for Gainesville Woman Care, an abortion clinic that launched the legal challenge along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and others, argued that the Supreme Court's ruling made clear the statute should be struck down permanently.

"No mandatory abortion delay in this country has ever survived strict scrutiny, and Florida's explicit right to privacy --- which is `as strong as possible,' --- will not tolerate a different result," the lawyers wrote June 1 in a request for summary judgment in the case.

But lawyers for the state asked the judge to table the motion for summary judgment indefinitely to give them more time to prove their case.

The state "must be afforded a full and fair opportunity to canvas applicable relevant literature, to consult with and retain experts as needed and appropriate, to seek discovery from plaintiffs and their experts as well as from third parties, and to marshal and present relevant facts in the context of relevant law," lawyers representing the state wrote in a brief filed late last month.

Since its passage more than two years ago, the law has been on hold.

A Leon County circuit judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the law from being implemented, but the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned that decision in early 2016.

The appeals court pointed to a lack of evidence to support the temporary injunction, saying in part that the circuit judge "failed to make sufficient factually supported findings about the existence of a significant restriction on a woman's right to seek an abortion."

The Supreme Court issued a stay temporarily blocking the law while it considered the matter. It then approved a temporary injunction in February, ruling that enactment of the law "would lead to irreparable harm."

"The mandatory delay law impacts only those women who have already made the choice to end their pregnancies. Indeed, under Florida's pre-existing informed consent law, a woman can already take all of the time she needs to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy, both before she arrives at the clinic and after she receives the counseling information," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the court's majority. "No other medical procedure, even those with greater health consequences, requires a 24-hour waiting period in the informed consent process."


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