Abortion Rights Groups, Clergy, Sue to Block Florida Law

By ALEX PICKETT

(CN) – Several clergy members and abortion rights groups on Tuesday filed suit in Florida to block a provision of state law that requires them register and pay a fee if they counsel women seeking an abortion.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the plaintiffs, claims the requirements violate the First Amendment.

In addition to registering and paying a fee, the law also compels those groups to tell women about alternatives to abortion.

The defendants named in the suit are Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Justin Senior, interim secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration.

The 36-page complaint contends anyone giving advice to a woman considering abortion – even friends and family – could be forced to register with state and “publicly declare themselves as ‘abortion referral agencies’ and provide state-mandated speech that they would not otherwise provide, are not qualified to offer, and with which they do not agree, or else suffer criminal penalties.”

The groups also contend the law’s parental notification requirement violates a minor’s right to privacy and betrays “the confidentiality of the most personal and intimate of discussions.”

“A woman considering an abortion may consult with any number of people in making her decision,” said Nancy Abudu, legal director of the ACLU of Florida, in a statement. “This ill-conceived law criminalizes the intimate conversations a woman has with her support network. The law not only forces people to provide information they may not be qualified to provide, it clearly intends to bully and intimidate women’s trusted advisors with a vague and complicated bureaucratic process, under the threat of criminal charges.”

Attorney General Bondi with a statement of her own that said, “As Florida’s Attorney General, I am not authorized to enforce criminal provisions in the circuits at issue.” “Under Florida’s Constitution, I am the state’s chief legal officer; however, I have no specific enforcement authority involving the challenged measures, therefore, I am not a proper party for this suit,” Bondi said.

The lawsuit is the latest attack against the extensive abortion law signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott in March.

Over the summer, Planned Parenthood won a case blocking aspects of the law that cut off state funding for preventive health services and required inspections of patient medical records at abortion clinics.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle declared the provisions unconstitutional. Judge Hinkle will also preside over the present case.

The abortion law’s provisions are supposed to go into effect on January 1.