Court clears way for 24-hour abortion waiting period

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An appeals court Friday overturned a temporary injunction that has blocked a new law requiring women to wait 24 hours before having abortions in Florida.

As a result, the law went into effect immediately after the ruling.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said a Leon County circuit judge failed to show the need for the injunction, issued last summer after the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott approved the law.

"The (circuit) court failed to make any findings regarding the state's compelling interests in support of this statute, which the state has argued include compelling interests in providing women a short time to reflect privately after receiving required relevant information, in maintaining the integrity of the medical profession by making that post-informed reflective time free from influence by a physician or clinic personnel, in protecting the unique potentiality of human life, in protecting the organic law of Florida from interpretations and impacts never contemplated or approved by Floridians or their elected representatives, and in protecting the viability of a duly-enacted state law," the ruling said.

Supporters of the law have argued the waiting period would give women more time to reflect on whether to have abortions.

"We are pleased the court agrees with us and has allowed this important law to go into effect," said Kylie Mason, press secretary to Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office argued the state's case.

But the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union --- which sought the injunction on behalf of Gainesville Woman Care LLC and Medical Students for Choice --- said they would seek to get the temporary injunction reinstated to block the law from taking effect while litigation proceeds.

The groups said the law would impose hardships on women seeking abortions because it would force them to miss work, lose wages and pay for additional child care and travel.

"When a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs compassionate care --- not insulting and potentially dangerous delays mandated by politicians who presume to know better," Autumn Katz of the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement. "We vow to fight this law until the courts permanently strike it down, ensuring that Florida women are able to get the health care they need."

Opponents of the law also maintain it is unconstitutional, in part because it would be an intrusion into private medical decisions.

In arguing the case before the appeals court, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Julia Kaye cited a landmark 1989 Florida Supreme Court case known as "In re TW," which abortion-rights advocates say protects the right to privacy and provides a powerful legal shield for women seeking abortions.

But Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican who sponsored the waiting-period bill during last year's legislative session, said she was confident it would pass constitutional muster.

"I've done a lot of research on it, and I've looked at a lot of other states," she said. "Florida's constitution has a strict privacy clause, and that's why I worked with subject-matter experts and lawyers. … I do believe this is constitutional, and at the end of the lawsuit will be ruled that way."

The ruling by judges Susan Kelsey, Brad Thomas and William F. Stone suggested the appeals-court panel shared Sullivan's view.

"The trial court did not address the state's arguments, such as whether, in passing the privacy amendment in 1980, voters intended to deprive Florida and its citizens of the benefits of advances in medical knowledge and evolutions in federal law recognizing increasingly compelling state interests arising from, among other factors, the potentiality of life uniquely represented by the human fetus," the ruling said.

Tallahassee attorney Rick Johnson, local co-counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU, said the ruling was unusual for putting the law into effect immediately, rather than granting a 15-day interim period.

He also said it was unusually biased.

"It was startling to see how political and how ideological that was," Johnson said. "It was a ruling that had some legal content, but … I think that they could have reached the result that the trial judge had incorrectly entered a stay and they could have given legal reasons for doing that. But they used the opinion as an opportunity to make a political statement and a religious statement against abortion."

Sullivan disagreed, saying the plaintiffs did not make their case.

"And so because they've lost, if they choose to make the statement that they think it's for political reasons, I think that's a political statement on their part. I think that they didn't have the evidence," she said.