Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office has 60 more days to gather evidence and testimony to defend a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for abortions, which lawmakers enacted in 2015 but which has been blocked from taking effect amid a two-year legal battle.
In granting the state extra time, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Wednesday also chided Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harle for not already being prepared to make her case.
It’s been five months since the Florida Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision that stopped the waiting period from going into effect while the lawsuit over constitutionality went ahead.
“I’m very skeptical in terms of the state’s suggestion that they need more time,” Lewis said during an hourlong hearing in Tallahassee. “If I were in your shoes, I’d be ready a long time ago to answer what the challenges were.”
I think that Florida women have to wait a little longer for justice, but I am very hopeful that we will get this law struck down once and for all.
Julia Kaye, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union
Through various comments, Lewis voiced skepticism toward the state and indicated he might ultimately rule in favor of a request by the ACLU of Florida and other plaintiffs to declare outright that the mandatory waiting period is unconstitutional.
“I believe it’s important that whatever happens here, there’s a complete record,” Lewis said. “I think 60 days ought to be plenty of time to decide what you have.”
Harle told Lewis that she wanted the “opportunity to gather expert testimony” on whether women can sufficiently give informed consent to an abortion absent the requirement that they wait 24 hours before having the procedure done.
“There’s a unique need for a very short period of time to ensure informed consent to this procedure is genuine and valid,” Harle said. “We would like to show there are many, many women who change their mind.”
Julia Kaye, an attorney for the ACLU, argued such testimony isn’t relevant to the fact that the waiting period itself is unconstitutional for several reasons, including that it singles out abortions from other — sometimes more dangerous — medical procedures, which don’t require a waiting period.
She also argued that the state hasn’t articulated a compelling interest for the law that could withstand judicial scrutiny.
There’s a unique need for a very short period of time to ensure informed consent to this procedure is genuine and valid.
Denise Harle, deputy solicitor general of Florida
Lewis said the ACLU’s argument is “almost exclusively legal” in challenging the law, and he put Harle on notice. “I think the burden has shifted to you to come up with some evidence,” he said.
“Even though procedurally you didn’t do it like you should, I think it’s only fair that you get a chance to make the argument you think you can,” Lewis said.
Harle declined to comment after the hearing.
Tallahassee attorney Richard Johnson, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told reporters that Lewis seemed to want to “bulletproof what he’s doing and make sure that it’s just beyond challenge.”
“I think that Florida women have to wait a little longer for justice,” Kaye added, “but I am very hopeful that we will get this law struck down once and for all.”