Fla. Supreme Court halts 24-hour mandatory delay law

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday ruled 5-2 to halt enforcement of a 24-hour mandatory delay law (HB 633) that requires a woman seeking abortion care to make multiple trips to a clinic, the AP/Fort Meyers News-Press reports.

The law is on hold while a lawsuit challenging the measure in state court continues (Farrington, AP/Fort Meyers News-Press, 4/22).

Law details

The law requires a woman to meet in person with a physician at least 24 hours prior to having an abortion. Florida already requires a woman to receive counseling from a physician prior to the procedure.

The law waives the delay for women who are survivors of rape, incest, human trafficking or domestic violence. However, the exemptions only will be provided if the woman can produce certain documentation, such as medical records, police reports or restraining orders.

Background on case

One day after Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed the legislation in June 2015, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Florida challenged the law in state court.

Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Francis granted a temporary injunction to stop the law from taking effect. Shortly after Francis issued the injunction, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s (R) office filed a notice that it would appeal the measure. The legal action immediately stayed the injunction, which meant that the law was allowed to take effect as scheduled.

ACLU and CRR asked the judge to lift the stay and reinstate the injunction blocking the law. In July 2015, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson vacated the stay after an emergency hearing.

Florida asked the state’s First District Court of Appeal to reverse the stay. In February, a three-judge panel for the court ruled in favor of the state, saying that the temporary injunction did not meet a legal test required for a temporary injunction.

In March, the First District Court of Appeal rejected an emergency motion to reinstate the injunction while the plaintiffs appealed the appeals court’s decision to the state Supreme Court (Women’s Health Policy Report, 3/16).

Comments

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of CRR, praised the ruling, saying, “Today’s ruling ensures Florida women will be able to get the constitutionally protected health care they need, when they need it, without enduring an insulting and potentially dangerous [mandatory delay]” (Ferris, The Hill, 4/22).

Separately, Nancy Abudu, legal director of the ACLU of Florida, said, “Women should not suffer this burden while there is an ongoing challenge to this unconstitutional law. Forcing women seeking an abortion to make multiple visits that are medically unnecessary especially burdens poor and working women, and is potentially dangerous.” She noted, “This law was about the legislature creating needless burdens to limit a woman’s access to reproductive care” (AP/Fort Meyers News-Press, 4/22).

Julia Kaye, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said, “We hope the court will ultimately agree that Florida women are capable of making decisions about their health and their families without political interference … and that the Florida Constitution tolerates nothing less” (Auslen, Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau, 4/22).

Laura Goodhue — executive director of Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, which is not a party in the lawsuit — criticized the law, detailing how it limited access to care for women in the state after it went into effect. She said, “It’s definitely been difficult for many [women]. They’ve traveled a great distance just to be told they have to come back and take time off work or classes.” Goodhue added, “Politicians are passing laws with the intent of shaming and judging women” (AP/Fort Meyers News-Press, 4/22).

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