Judge temporarily halts Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, says it's unconstitutional

Cooper cited the right to privacy enumerated in the Florida Constitution.

click to enlarge Judge temporarily halts Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, says it's unconstitutional
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A state judge has found Florida’s 15-week abortion ban unconstitutional and will issue an order halting the law.

Judge John Cooper’s ruling Thursday is a preliminary win for abortion rights advocates, who sought to stop the Republican-backed law (HB 5) before it takes effect at midnight. Cooper plans to issue a temporary injunction against the legislation but said the written order formally pausing the law won’t come Thursday because of time constraints.

Cooper cited the right to privacy enumerated in the Florida Constitution.

The law’s start date comes exactly one week after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which became the inspiration for Florida’s legislation. In upholding Mississippi’s law, the Court negated half a century of federal abortion precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, eliminating the federal right to an abortion.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s 15-week abortion ban into law in April, calling it a protection of life and those that can’t protect themselves.

“While we are disappointed with today’s ruling, we know that the pro-life HB 5 will ultimately withstand all legal challenges,” DeSantis’ office said in a statement sent by spokesman Bryan Griffin. “The Florida Supreme Court previously misinterpreted Florida’s right to privacy as including a right to an abortion, and we reject this interpretation. The Florida Constitution does not include — and has never included — a right to kill an innocent unborn child.”

“We will appeal today’s ruling and ask the Florida Supreme Court to reverse its existing precedent regarding Florida’s right to privacy. The struggle for life is not over.”

Democratic lawmakers and activists pushed back against the 15-week abortion ban throughout the 2022 Legislative Session. Opponents hosted rallies, packed committee rooms and flooded the phone lines of lawmakers, and that opposition was reignited last week with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for Governor, was among the first to react to Cooper’s verbal ruling.

“The 15-week abortion ban was just ruled unconstitutional in Florida. Because it is,” Fried tweeted. “We won’t go back. We will keep fighting.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is the front-runner in the Democratic nomination, also issued a statement.

“Today is an important victory for freedom across the Sunshine State and Florida’s constitutional right to privacy,” he said. “The reproductive freedoms of Florida’s women stood strong in the face of Governor DeSantis’s ongoing attempts to strip away their right to make decisions over their bodies.”

Among other criticisms, opponents lamented a provision requiring two physicians to certify a life-threatening emergency in order to obtain an abortion after 15 weeks. They contend the provision will disproportionately harm low-income and minority women, who may lack adequate access to health care.

According to a staff analysis, Florida recorded 209,645 live births in 2020 and 72,073 abortions — most of them elective.

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution is explicit about the right to privacy, which the Florida Supreme Court has previously ruled encompasses the right to an abortion. Ultimately, Florida’s 15-week abortion ban is expected to go before the Florida Supreme Court.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Erin Grall, had been among the strictest abortion prohibitions in the nation. The bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest, but does provide an exception if it is necessary to save a pregnant person’s life.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling Friday, a dozen other states have There are suggestions that DeSantis and Florida’s Republican-led Legislature could hold a Special Session to further reduce the window for abortions. Cooper’s ruling complicates that path.
This is a developing story. Updates to come.

This story was first published at Florida Politics.