Reproductive health providers on Monday asked a Florida judge to block a new 15 week abortion ban from taking effect this week, arguing that the state constitution guarantees access to the procedure.
Planned Parenthood and other health centers are seeking a temporary emergency injunction to stop the law approved this year by Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. It is set to go into effect Friday.
Leon Circuit Judge John C. Cooper began hearing arguments in the case days after the U.S. Supreme Court ended federal protections for abortion by overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Florida’s law would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions if the procedure is necessary to save a mother’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.
Violators could face up to five years in prison. Physicians or other medical professionals could lose their licenses and face administrative fines of $10,000 for each violation.
Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks.
The legal challenge hinges on a 1980 amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing a broad right to privacy, which has previously 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.
During Monday’s hearing, Dr. Shelly Tien, a gynecologist for Planned Parenthood in Florida, testified that the law would impact poor women the most.
“I have found that women and girls who need abortions after 15 weeks are those that tend to have the most challenging and compelling life circumstances. They are women who are struggling economically, that may be in poverty or near poverty,” Tien said.
In court filings, the state said abortion providers don’t have standing to make a claim of a personal right to privacy since they are acting as third parties on behalf of their patients. Attorneys for the state also maintain that the state’s constitutional right to privacy doesn’t include abortion, saying the state has an interest in safeguarding health and protecting potential life.
“Doctors are not irreparably harmed simply because they cannot perform a procedure prohibited by state law,” attorneys for the state of Florida said.
Witnesses called by the state on Monday focused much of their testimony on the potential for fetal pain and the dangers of getting an abortion late in pregnancy.
“A limitation would encourage women to seek earlier abortions, which would be safer for them,” said Dr. Ingrid Skop, an obstetrician-gynecologist and senior fellow at Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group.
Data show an overwhelming majority of abortions in Florida occur before the 15-week cutoff. A federal 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.
Cooper is expected to issue a ruling in the Florida case Thursday.