Abortion Restrictions Progressing In Courts, Capitol

Feb 29, 2016

Credit Jason Corey via Flickr

The question of abortion policy is at the center of legislative and judicial debates playing out in Florida.  A 24 hour waiting period may be on its way to the Supreme Court while lawmakers propose new, more stringent restrictions.

Last week the first district court of appeal overturned a trial court ruling that put the state’s 24 hour waiting period legislation on hold.  Central to the court’s reasoning is the judge at the lower level didn’t provide enough evidence to the ruling.

“I’m particularly troubled I’m looking at page ten of the order that the trial court says that because he has no evidence he’s going to conclude that the second trip—he can’t conclude that it is not an additional burden.  It’s like a double negative,” appeals court judge Susan Kelsey says.

The ruling says a temporary injunction—the legal mechanism putting the waiting period on hold—is an extraordinary measure and courts shouldn’t impose one without showing the evidence it’s necessary.  Now, the waiting period is in effect. 

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Julia Kaye says this violates the constitutional rights of Florida women, and her client, the owner of Gainesville Woman Care is already seeing the effects.

“As she explained in her affidavit,” Kaye explains, “the women were distraught and most of them were in tears and it was really going to be a struggle for many of them and perhaps impossible for some of them to make it back to the clinic another day in the next week or two to actually have the procedure performed.”

That’s part of the argument Kaye’s making to the first district court in hopes of again shelving the waiting period while the state supreme court decides whether to take the case.

“We are optimistic that the Florida Supreme Court will agree to review the decision allowing this intrusive demeaning law to take effect,” Kaye says, “and we believe that the first district court should stay its order until the state high court has had an opportunity to weigh in on this important constitutional question.”

Meanwhile in the state Senate, Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) is forging ahead with new restrictions for facilities performing abortions.

“These protections require all abortion clinics to have a transfer agreement or admitting privileges at a hospital in the case of an emergency,” Stargel says, “and it prohibits public funds from being expended to a licensed facility performing abortions on babies that are not conceived through rape incest or to preserve the life of the pregnant mother.”

The bill is largely modeled after Texas legislation passed in 2013 that dramatically reduced the number of abortion providers in that state.  A constitutional challenge of that law goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.  In the wake of a series of highly edited videos, Florida’s law also takes aim at Planned Parenthood.  Stargel’s measure redefines trimesters after a dispute last year between the organization and state regulators.  Trimesters would be counted from the point of fertilization rather than the last menstrual cycle.  But fertilization is hard to pin down, and Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) says there’s no scientific reason for the change.

Baffled, he says, “we have a bill that redefines gestation with no compelling medical reason to be able to do that.  No advice from medical doctors to be able to do that but as was said in an answer to question here in committee just a decision of the bill’s sponsor that those are the dates we wanted.”

The move means more abortions would fall in the second trimester under stricter rules.  

Sen. Gwen Margolis (D-Miami) was a bit more forceful.

“With abortion we should be vasectomy right next to it so men understand how you feel when you’re told you can’t do this,” Margolis says.

Despite their objections, Stargel’s measure passed committee.  Now it’s on its way to the Senate floor.

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