Florida Supreme Court Says State Abortion Law Invades Privacy

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (CN) – The Florida Supreme Court ruled that a state law requiring women to wait 24 hours after their initial consultations to get abortions is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

The 4-2 decision upheld a lower court ruling that barred the state from enforcing the law, and overturned a state appeals court reversal of that finding.

The Feb. 16 decision by Florida’s highest court also required that an injunction related to the enforcement of the law remain in effect, pending further legal action.

The Gainesville-based Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center and the nonprofit organization Medical Students for Choice were the plaintiffs in the case challenging the constitutionality of the Mandatory Delay Law approved by the state legislature in June 2015.

In its ruling, the majority of justices on the Florida Supreme Court said the state’s First District Court of Appeal “disregarded the fact that the challengers did present evidence, which the trial court properly relied on, that the Mandatory Delay Law would result in additional costs and additional trips to the physician and that any delay could affect the type of procedure being performed.”

Judge Barbara Pariente, writing for the court majority, said “[b]ecause the Mandatory Delay Law infringes on a woman’s right of privacy, the State bore the burden at the temporary injunction hearing to prove that the Mandatory Delay Law survives strict scrutiny.”

“The State, however, presented no evidence of a compelling state interest, much less that the law served such an interest through the least restrictive means,” Pariente continued.

The judge agreed with the plaintiffs in the case, who argued “women may take as long as they need to make this deeply personal decision both before and after they receive the state-mandated information. But through the Mandatory Delay Law, the State impermissibly interferes with women’s fundamental right of privacy by mandating an additional twenty-four hour waiting period before a woman may exercise her decision after receiving all of the information the state deems necessary to make an educated and informed decision.”

Rick Johnson, a Tallahassee attorney who represented the two organizations that brought the suit, told WUFT-TV the ruling was “a big victory” and that “[t]he Supreme Court was exactly right and they did an excellent job of explaining what the law was.”

Johnson also suggested the Supreme Court “hasn’t really left room for the 24-hour waiting period to survive.”

He was joined on the plaintiffs’ legal team by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights, among others.

In a news release ACLU of Florida Legal Director Nancy Abudu said the ruling was a victory for Florida women.

“The burdens placed on a woman seeking an abortion by this mandatory delay law are medically unnecessary, potentially dangerous, and disproportionately burden poor and working women,” Abudu said. “This law had one purpose: to limit a woman’s access to her constitutionally-guaranteed medical care. We are pleased that the court has agreed.”

Florida’s Republican attorney general, Pam Bondi, defended the state; her office did not respond to telephone message from Courthouse News seeking comment.