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Florida's new abortion law halted as DeSantis vows to fight on – POLITICO

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In a stinging defeat for Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature, a Florida judge said Thursday he will temporarily block a new law that would prohibit all abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The law, which provides no exceptions for victims of rape, incest or human trafficking, was approved by legislators and signed into law by DeSantis in April. It is scheduled to take effect on Friday.

The judge’s decision comes as the nation grapples with how to move forward with reproductive rights in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. In announcing his decision, Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said the new law was likely unconstitutional because it runs afoul of a voter-approved provision in the state Constitution that bars the government from intruding on people’s personal lives.

DeSantis, during a Thursday press conference in central Florida, said that the judge’s ruling was not a surprise, but added “it was not something of course that we were happy to see.” He vowed to appeal the ruling.

“These are unborn babies that have heartbeats, they can feel pain, they can suck their thumb,” DeSantis said. “And to say the state constitution mandates things like dismemberment abortions, I just don’t think that’s the proper interpretation.”

Legal battles over abortion are now playing out in several other states after the Supreme Court issued its ruling overturning federal abortion protections. A judge in Kentucky on Thursday halted that state’s “trigger law” that would block nearly all abortions, the Associated Press reports, while judges on Monday blocked abortions bans in Utah and Louisiana.

Cooper is unlikely to issue his written ruling until early next week, meaning that the new law will still take effect. Whitney White, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Freedom Project representing several abortion clinics in the litigation, said that “unfortunately we are facing a situation where access to abortion in the near term after 15 weeks is not guaranteed.”

The judge’s ruling is just the opening round of a legal battle that is expected to eventually reach the Florida Supreme Court, which has previously blocked abortion restrictions because of the state’s privacy amendment. DeSantis’s office said on Thursday that it would eventually ask the state Supreme Court to “reverse its existing precedent regarding Florida’s right to privacy. The struggle for life is not over.”

Cooper acknowledged that the state Supreme Court could revisit its past decisions but he said that “I do think this law complies with the present state of the law in Florida.”

Planned Parenthood of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state earlier this month to stop the law, claiming it violates the privacy amendment approved by voters in 1980. That measure has been cited by the state Supreme Court in overturning previous restrictive abortion laws, including one requiring parental consent for minors seeking abortions. The makeup of the Florida Supreme Court, however, has shifted to the right in recent and abortions rights advocates fear the conservative-majority state high court could interpret that privacy right differently.

Cooper, who laid out his reasoning behind his ruling, said that past Supreme Court decisions required attorneys representing the state to show a “compelling” reason for the new abortion restrictions.

“The rub is, where do you draw the line?” Cooper said at one point in Thursday’s hearing. “It’s not as easy as it may look to someone outside this courtroom.”

In the end, Cooper concluded that the state had not provided enough evidence to justify the new restrictions and said he was not persuaded by the experts the state lined up to testify. He also did not accept the state’s rationale that the new law was constitutional because most women in the state already obtain abortions prior to 15 weeks and that women could just seek one sooner. He contended that rape victims and victims of domestic violence may not be able to meet the new deadline.

Last year, almost 80,000 women received abortions in Florida from one of the 55 providers. Thousands of women also travel to Florida for abortions, including from neighboring Alabama and Georgia. In 2021, more than 4,800 women from out of state received abortions in Florida, the third-most populous state in the nation. Only New York and Illinois have higher rates of abortion.

Florida’s abortion law is modeled on Mississippi’s, which bans the procedure at 15 weeks and was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the landmark 1973 Roe decision. After the Supreme Court struck down Roe, DeSantis praised the ruling and stated he will “will work to expand pro-life protections” but did not provide details.

Before Florida lawmakers approved the ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the state prohibited abortions after 24 weeks.

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