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Pam Bondi steps into federal case over state’s abortion law

A federal case on the state’s new abortion law has taken another twist with a filing from Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office.

Late Monday, her office notified the court of proposed rules related to the law that could affect Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle‘s consideration of a pending request for a preliminary injunction.

The controversy in question involves part of the law that requires those engaged in abortion referral or counseling services to pay a fee to register with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and provides for criminal penalties for not registering.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing several Florida reverends, rabbis and nonprofit organizations, is seeking the injunction to prevent enforcement of the provision. The plaintiffs say it infringes on their constitutional free speech and privacy rights.

Bondi, through Special Counsel Blaine Winship, asked the judge to take “judicial notice … of (a) proposed amended rule and registration form” newly developed by the agency.

Bondi’s filing says the new rule “clarifies that registration is only (required from those) ‘who are paid for the particular purpose of providing advice or assistance’ ” and “who provide advice or assistance to persons ‘in obtaining abortions or pursuing alternatives to abortion.’ “

Hinkle, during last month’s oral argument on the injunction, had raised questions on who was required to register. Bondi’s filing suggests, at the least, that the law does not apply to volunteers.

The rule and a “proposed registration form clarify that only registration is provided for, and not licensure, for which AHCA’s permission would be required,” it adds.

Another question in oral argument was whether the registration requirement constituted a form of licensing by the agency. The form sets the registration cost at $200.

“Moreover, neither the proposed rule nor the proposed registration form requires registration prior to advising or assisting persons,” the filing says.

Last month, Hinkle had mused that abortion counselors “can’t speak unless they’re registered (with the state, and) if they don’t pay, they can’t speak.”

An ACLU attorney in Miami declined comment on the filing until staff there reviewed it further.

Hinkle already has chipped away at the law, passed last year, striking down a section that would have banned abortion providers from receiving state funding for non-abortion services.

 

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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