Judge Grants Extension in Abortion Waiting Period Case

Jul 19, 2017

Julia Kaye speaking after the hearing.
Credit Nick Evans

The Florida Legislature and the American Civil Liberties Union are again squaring off in a Tallahassee courtroom over a 2015 law requiring women wait 24 hours before getting an abortion.  With the measure already on hold, the judge granted the state’s request for two additional months to work on its case.

As soon as the Florida Legislature approved its law mandating a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, the ACLU challenged the state in court.  Lawmakers contend the measure is an important part of informed consent, because it gives women time to reflect on the decision.  That case put the law on hold—what’s known as a temporary injunction—and five months ago the Florida Supreme Court upheld that decision. 

Now, the ACLU is attempting to block the measure permanently.

“We will keep fighting until this law is struck down for good,” ACLU lead attorney Julia Kaye says, “and we will take it all the way up whatever needs to happen to get this harmful and insulting law off the books.”

But her effort will have to wait at least another 60 days.  Despite two years of litigation Attorney for the state Denise Harle wants additional time to build her argument.  Kaye argues the state didn’t even prepare the documents laying out why it needs an extension.  Still, Leon County circuit Judge Terry Lewis assented.

“I’m very skeptical in terms of the state’s suggestion that we need more time to bring up stuff,” Lewis said from the bench.  “Like I said, it’s been going on a long time.  I think if I were in your shoes I’d be ready a long time ago to answer whatever the challenges were.”

“On the other hand,” he went on “I think it’s very important that whatever happens here there’s a complete record.”

It’s not what the ACLU wanted.  But Rick Johnson, part of the legal team challenging the law, remains optimistic.

“He’s trying to give them every opportunity to make the best case that they can,” he says, “so that he has dotted all his Is and crossed all his Ts and presented a bullet proof order for when it goes up on appeal.”

When the state returns, it will have a heavy burden of proof.  The Florida Supreme Court’s order places the onus on the state to prove its law serves a compelling interest by the least restrictive means.  It’s called strict scrutiny and in terms of judicial standards it’s as high as it gets. 

Julia Kaye doesn’t think the state has a chance.

“This case has been pending for two years, and we’ve had the benefit of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision for five months,” Kaye says. “And yet the state’s still arguing that it needs more time to try to somehow uncover evidence that could possibly justify insulting law.” 

“There is no practical reason why they should be entitled to more time to do so,” she goes on, “but we are happy to give them another 60 days to fail.”

Harle refused comment after the hearing.