Judge issues order halting Florida’s 15-week abortion ban
A man holds a sign as community members walk around Vander Veer Park during a march following the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, June 26, 2022, in Davenport, Iowa. Democrats and their aligned groups raised more than $80 million in the week after the Supreme Court stripped away a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion. The flood of cash offers one of the first tangible signs of how the ruling may energize voters. (Nikos Frazier/Quad City Times via AP)

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Judge John Cooper rejected the state's argument that the law was constitutional because women could still get abortions before 15 weeks.

A state circuit judge has issued his formal order stalling Florida’s 15-week abortion ban days after determining the law unconstitutional. However, that injunction was quickly scrapped after the state filed a notice to appeal.

In a 68-page order released Tuesday, Judge John Cooper followed through on his verbal ruling Thursday, a preliminary win for abortion rights advocates. Abortion providers and advocates seek to defeat the Republican-backed law (HB 5) by proving that it violates the right to privacy written in the Florida Constitution.

“Without HB 5, women in Florida can obtain abortions for any reason up until fetal viability. With HB 5, women in Florida are unable to obtain an abortion between 15 weeks (from the last menstrual period) and fetal viability unless one of HB 5’s narrow exceptions applies,” Cooper wrote.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s 15-week abortion ban in April, calling it a protection of life for those that can’t protect themselves. Speaking in Sanford after Cooper’s initial ruling on Thursday, DeSantis told a crowd the ruling wasn’t unexpected.

“It was not, of course, something that we were happy to see,” DeSantis said. “These are unborn babies that have heartbeat, they can feel pain, they can suck their thumb. To say that the state constitution mandates things like dismemberment abortions, I just don’t think that’s the proper interpretation.”

Since the state has filed a notice to appeal the decision, Monday’s injunction has already been lifted, meaning HB 5 remains in effect.

The law kicked in Friday, 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.

Cooper acknowledged the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. However, he noted the Florida Supreme Court previously said the overturning of Roe v. Wade would have no bearing on the right to abortion in Florida because of the right to privacy included in the state constitution.

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 the Dobbs case.

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

“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, front-runner for 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 Gov. 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, is 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.

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.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


One comment

  • Richard Bruce

    July 5, 2022 at 11:41 am

    Have not read the details of the ruling, but what exact reasoning applies to right to “privacy” after 15 weeks, but not after 24 weeks? What happens at 23 weeks and 6 days when privacy applies, but not one day later?

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