The fate of a court order that blocked a mandatory waiting period for abortions is on the line as state appellate judges weigh it against strict privacy rules in the state Constitution.
On Tuesday, lawyers for the state and Gainesville-based abortion clinic Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center argued their cases to a three-judge panel in the 1st District Court of Appeal. The judges will decide whether an injunction issued last summer will stay in effect or if it can be lifted, allowing the controversial waiting period law to go into effect.
The law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June, requires women to see a doctor 24 hours before having an abortion. Pro-abortion activists have called it a violation of privacy and said it blocks women from having an abortion — particularly those who live in remote areas or cannot afford to take multiple days off work.
But lawyers in the attorney general’s office and supportive lawmakers argue that it is a reasonable restriction that allows women to consider the decision to have an abortion before going through with it.
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The state Supreme Court has interpreted privacy language in the Florida Constitution to cover abortions. It’s generally seen as a higher standard than federal privacy or abortion laws.
Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Lake Dora, who sponsored the legislation, said it is “narrowly tailored” to fit within the Florida Constitution’s right to privacy.
Denise Harle, deputy solicitor general, said the waiting period is perfectly acceptable under the state’s Constitution.
“The people of Florida did not intend to prevent the Legislature from passing a reasonable law, one that ensures that pregnant women have a reasonable amount of time to make the decision whether to have an abortion,” Harle told the judges.
Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which is representing Bread and Roses in the case, see the law differently.
It “blatantly” violates the state Constitution, attorney Julia Kaye said. And, she said, the state has no significant interest in implementing a waiting period, a critical legal standard if judges determine a law is a “significant” restriction.
“The people of Florida care deeply about preventing unwarranted governmental interference with their private decisions, and that is exactly what this law does,” Kaye said.
The judges will decide only whether the injunction can stay in place. The ultimate validity of the waiting period law is tied up in a lawsuit still in circuit court in Tallahassee.
The appellate judges — Bradford Thomas, Susan Kelsey and William Stone — indicated they may send the injunction back to the lower court. They raised concerns that the original order by Judge Charles Dodson of the 2nd Circuit Court might not spell out enough evidence to warrant an injunction and said its arguments aren’t as clear as they could be.
If the judges order Dodson to reconsider or throw out the injunction, the waiting period could be enforced for the first time since July 2, the day after it went into effect.
Contact Michael Auslen at email@example.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.