MIAMI – A Florida law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy violates privacy protections in the state constitution, a state judge ruled Thursday, a day before the new restrictions were to take effect.
Judge John C. Cooper of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Tallahassee ruled from the bench that the law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April, will not be enforced for now. Florida currently allows abortions until 24 weeks, making the state a refuge for women seeking the procedure from across Southeastern states with tighter restrictions.
Cooper said he would issue a temporary statewide injunction. It will not be binding until he signs a written order, something the judge said would not happen Thursday. The ban takes effect at midnight.
Cooper granted the relief sought by Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union after a two-day hearing laid bare the nation’s divisive debate over abortion rights.
The hearing began Monday, three days after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years.
The state is expected to appeal Cooper’s ruling. The issue will most likely end up before the Florida Supreme Court, which in the past has cited a privacy amendment that voters wrote into the state constitution in 1980 to block other abortion restrictions from taking effect.
But DeSantis has reshaped the court following several retirements and made it much more conservative.
The Florida law banning abortions at 15 weeks, which includes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, is similar to the Mississippi statute at the heart of the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Cooper insisted in court that the matter at hand in Florida was the state constitution. “I’m here to litigate the right to privacy in Florida,” he said Monday. “I’m not here to litigate Roe versus Wade.”
In a separate case, a South Florida synagogue has also challenged the 15-week ban.
In the days since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Republican leaders in Florida have alluded to pursuing further abortion restrictions, without detailing how far they might go.
Opinion surveys have shown that, unlike in some other Southern states, a majority of Floridians support keeping abortion legal.
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