Judge blocks Florida 15-week abortion ban, ruling stayed as state appeals

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A Florida state judge has temporarily blocked a Florida law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but that block has itself been put on hold while the state appeals the ruling.

In a lengthy ruling issued Tuesday, Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper stated that the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – which overturned Roe v. Wade – has no bearing on this case. That is because while Roe was based on the idea of a right to privacy that is not explicitly in the Constitution, the Florida state constitution specifically does include a right to privacy.

 “The right to privacy under the Florida Constitution is ‘much broader in scope’ than any privacy right under the United States Constitution,” Cooper wrote, citing a past Florida case in which a concurring opinion observed that Florida’s abortion rights would not be impacted by Roe’s overruling.

Cooper cited other past cases, including a 2003 Florida Supreme Court case that said it would be wrong to compare federal and Florida privacy rights “in light of the fact that there is no express federal right of privacy clause.”

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Judge blocks Florida 15-week abortion ban, ruling stayed as state appeals

As a result of the state right being expressly written into the state constitution, Cooper said there is a higher level of scrutiny, and that “any law that implicates the fundamental right of privacy is … presumed to be unconstitutional.”

Cooper ruled that a 15-week cutoff for abortions is not supported by a sufficient state interest. The judge said that while the law has an exception for when abortion is needed to save the mother’s life, there are other conditions that “may not be fatal but can have profound and lasting implications for the patient, the family, and the neonate if the pregnancy is carried to term.”

The judge also pointed to evidence that most abortions carried out because of fetal abnormalities took place in the second trimester. He argued that for a variety of reasons such  as poverty, late diagnosis, addiction, and abuse, many of the women who got abortions in their second trimester in 2021 would not have been able to do so before 15 weeks.

Judge blocks Florida 15-week abortion ban, ruling stayed as state appeals

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference held at the Cox Science Center & Aquarium on June 08, 2022 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Republican governor on Monday accused the White House of lying about its COVID-19 vaccine policy for young children.
((Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images))

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“Patients faced with a diagnosis of a fetal condition also need time to make the right decisions for themselves and their families, based on information from their prenatal care providers and from multiple sources with knowledge about the fetal anomaly at issue, discussion with family and other support systems, and consultation with their clergy, social workers, or other resources,” Cooper wrote.

Cooper’s ruling granted an injunction barring Florida officials from enforcing the 15-week ban. That injunction was soon put on hold as the Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody swiftly appealed, triggering an automatic stay.

Judge blocks Florida 15-week abortion ban, ruling stayed as state appeals

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office said in a statement that they are “disappointed” with Cooper’s ruling but was confident that the law will remain in place.

“The Florida Supreme Court previously misinterpreted Florida’s right to privacy as including a right to an abortion, and we reject this interpretation,” the statement said. “The Florida Constitution does not include–and has never included–a right to kill an innocent unborn child. We will appeal the 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.”

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