Abortion Rights Advocates Sue Florida Over 15-Week Ban

By: - June 2, 2022 12:00 am

A nurse checks the vitals of a patient of as she rests after getting an abortion last year. In Florida, abortion rights advocates have sued the state over a new statute banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press

Planned Parenthood chapters and individual abortion providers in Florida sued the state in circuit court this week over a new statute banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The law, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in March, includes exceptions to save the life of the woman and for fatal fetal abnormalities but does not make exceptions for rape or incest. Florida currently allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Signed in April by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the law is slated to take effect July 1. Abortion providers asked the state court to suspend it while the court reaches a decision on whether the state’s constitution supports such a ban.

The lawsuit comes as the U.S. Supreme Court appears ready to uphold a similar 15-week ban in Mississippi, overturning its historic Roe v. Wade decision and returning the issue of abortion rights to the states.

Abortion rights advocates say the outcome of the Florida case will be crucial for pregnant people in the state and throughout the South.

For decades, Florida, with at least 60 abortion clinics and other providers, has been a primary destination for Southerners who want to end their pregnancies, said Elizabeth Nash, principal policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion access.

If the U.S. Supreme Court erases the federal right to abortion in the weeks ahead, nearly every other Southern state is expected to quickly ban the procedure. If Florida’s 15-week ban is allowed to take effect, it would be a major blow for reproductive rights in the region, Nash said.

Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, which opposes abortion, said he expects to see similar lawsuits in other states that have banned abortion.

Plaintiffs argue that the 15-week abortion ban is not permitted under the Florida Constitution, which includes a privacy clause that has been interpreted to extend to abortion.

In 1989, Florida’s high court struck down a law requiring pregnant girls to get the consent of a parent before getting an abortion, citing the state constitution’s privacy clause.

And in 2012, voters refused to remove a 1980 constitutional amendment that provided broad protections for individual privacy rights, including abortion, Planned Parenthood wrote in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

But in recent years, the makeup of the Florida top court has shifted to the right, with three of the seven justices appointed by DeSantis. When he signed the 15-week ban, DeSantis noted that the state’s 24-hour waiting period to receive an abortion had been upheld and reinstated by a circuit court judge earlier that week—after seven years of legal challenges.

Stephanie Fraim, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, called the state’s new law “devastating and cruel.”

“It is not what Floridians want nor what patients and their families need. On behalf of the patients who deserve access to all health care options and Floridians who value personal freedom, we will fight this abortion ban,” she wrote in a statement.

According to a poll from the University of Florida taken in February, 57% of Floridians opposed the bill.

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Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.