TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge on Thursday said he would temporarily block a 15-week abortion ban, following a court challenge by reproductive health providers who say the state constitution guarantees a right to the procedure.
Judge John C. Cooper made the oral ruling from the bench but his decision will not go into effect until he signs a written order, which Cooper said would likely happen next week. The law goes into effect Friday, meaning it will be in place for a few days before the order is signed.
In his ruling, Cooper said Florida's law was “unconstitutional in that it violates the privacy provision of the Florida Constitution.”
The move came days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, ending federal protections for abortions and reigniting fierce battles in state courts and legislatures over access to the procedure.
Florida’s 15-week abortion restriction was passed by the GOP-controlled statehouse and signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring.
DeSantis' office said it would appeal the ruling and he has pledged to “expand pro-life protections” in the future.
“The Florida Supreme Court previously misinterpreted Florida’s right to privacy as including a right to an abortion," the governor's office said in a statement. “We reject this interpretation because the Florida Constitution does not include — and has never included — a right to kill an innocent unborn child.”
The law would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions if the procedure is necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life, prevent serious injury or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow for exemptions in cases where pregnancies were caused by rape, incest or human trafficking. Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks.
Violators could face up to five years in prison. Physicians and other medical professionals could lose their licenses and face administrative fines of $10,000 for each violation.
The legal challenge in Florida hinges on a 1980 amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing a broad right to privacy, which has been interpreted by the state Supreme Court to include abortion. Florida voters reaffirmed the right to privacy in 2012 by rejecting a ballot initiative that would have weakened its protections, plaintiffs said.
“Despite Florida’s history of protecting the right to abortion, the Florida legislature recently engaged in a brazen attempt to override the will of the Florida people,” the abortion providers said.
The state argued in court papers that abortion providers don’t have standing to make a claim of a personal right to privacy since they were acting as third parties on behalf of their patients. Attorneys for the state also maintained that the state’s constitutional right to privacy doesn’t include the right to abortion, arguing that the state has an interest in safeguarding health and protecting potential life.
During testimony this week, witnesses for the state focused primarily on the potential for fetal pain as well as health risks to women who receive abortions late in pregnancy. A witness for Planned Parenthood told the judge that the law would disproportionately affect poor women.
The delay between the signing of an order temporarily blocking the law and the law's Friday implementation date creates an added layer of confusion, said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.
“It’s extremely challenging for doctors to work with this but they are, and the most important thing is that planned parenthood is still seeing people," she said. “It’s a lot of unnecessary delays and patients are at the whims of the legal system right now.”
Data shows the majority of abortions in Florida occur before 15 weeks. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said about 2% of the nearly 72,000 abortions reported in Florida in 2019 were performed after 15 weeks.