Judge to temporarily block Florida’s 15-week abortion ban

A Florida judge on Thursday said he would temporarily block a 15-week abortion ban from taking effect, following a court challenge by reproductive health providers who say the state constitution guarantees a right to the procedure.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Florida judge on Thursday said he would temporarily block a 15-week abortion ban from taking effect, following a court challenge by reproductive health providers who say the state constitution guarantees a right to the procedure.

Judge John C. Cooper made the oral ruling from the bench but the decision will not go into effect until he signs a written order, which Cooper said would not happen Thursday. The law goes into effect Friday.

Cooper said Florida’s ban was “unconstitutional in that it violates the privacy provision of the Florida Constitution.”

The decision came days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, ending federal protections for abortions and reigniting fierce battles in state courts and legislatures over access to the procedure.

Florida’s 15-week abortion ban was passed by the GOP-controlled statehouse and signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring.

DeSantis’ office issued the following statement to News4JAX on Thursday, saying it would appeal the ruling:

“While we are disappointed with today’s ruling, we know that the pro-life HB 5 will ultimately withstand all legal challenges. The Florida Supreme Court previously misinterpreted Florida’s right to privacy as including a right to an abortion. We reject this interpretation because the Florida Constitution does not include–and has never included–a right to kill an innocent unborn child. We will appeal today’s ruling and ask the Florida Supreme Court to reverse its existing precedent regarding Florida’s right to privacy. The struggle for life is not over.”

The governor made it clear that his office was planning for a legal battle over the planned 15-weel abortion ban. He spoke about abortion during a new conference Thursday afternoon that was on education.

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

We asked Jamie Neal, a certified nurse a certified nurse-midwife, about what a fetus can can feel at 15 weeks.

“That’s a very difficult question to answer. In a fetus this small, the brain is not fully developed. And feeling is a sensory, neurological function,” Neal said. “And it’s difficult because every person is different and developed at a different rate.”

Neal talks about women who have access to prenatal care receive anatomy scans at 18 to 22 weeks.

“Everything should be developed by that time of 18 to 22 weeks, and enough so that you can look at the heart, the anatomy of the lungs, the kidneys, and all of the different body parts. The brain and everything,” Neal said.

News4JAX spoke with Congressman Michael Waltz, R-Florida’s 6th District. He said he doesn’t understand why a judge would block the ban at 15 weeks when the previous law banned at 24 weeks.

“At the end of the day what happened with the overturn of Roe v. Wade is that we return these decisions back to the voters, back to state legislators, and we can debate as a society where life begins and where life deserves to be protected. Florida has historically said that was at 24, now said it was at 15 weeks. The science has changed. It has proven that babies in the wound feel pain, they have a heartbeat, and they deserve our protection at 15 weeks and I think that’s going to end up standing in the Florida Supreme Court,” Waltz said.

Dr. Cecilia Grande, an OBGYN in Miami, disagrees with the congressman.

“We have legislators giving these, putting these images of fetuses with heartbeats, and they don’t have a heart, they have something very rudimentary. So we cannot tell about sensory levels in fetuses that are not viable,” Grande said.

Democrats applaud decision by judge

Florida Democrats meanwhile applauded the judge’s decision, saying politicians like DeSantis have no business restricting Floridians’ health freedoms.

US Representative and Democratic candidate for Florida Governor Charlie Crist spoke about abortion ahead of today’s ruling.

“This kind of restrictive action on women in America and Florida is an affront to true actual freedom. This governor talks about Florida is a free estate. Well, apparently not if you’re a woman and want to the right to choose,” Crist said.

Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is also running for governor, also issued a statement:

“This is a small piece of good news, a sign of legal sanity amid a larger ocean of ill-conceived legal opinions handed down from America’s highest Court. DeSantis and the authoritarian Republican legislature deserve this rebuke. Let’s hope that wise legal minds uphold this decision going forward. When I am governor, I will codify a woman’s right to have autonomy over her body and health choices into Florida law.”

What does the new law do?

The law would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions if the procedure is necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life, prevent serious injury or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow for exemptions in cases where pregnancies were caused by rape, incest or human trafficking. Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks.

Violators could face up to five years in prison. Physicians and other medical professionals could lose their licenses and face administrative fines of $10,000 for each violation.

The legal challenge in Florida hinges on a 1980 amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing a broad right to privacy, which has been interpreted by the state Supreme Court to include abortion. Florida voters reaffirmed the right to privacy in 2012 by rejecting a ballot initiative that would have weakened its protections, plaintiffs said.

“Despite Florida’s history of protecting the right to abortion, the Florida legislature recently engaged in a brazen attempt to override the will of the Florida people,” the abortion providers said.

The state argued that abortion providers don’t have standing to make a claim of a personal right to privacy since they were acting as third parties on behalf of their patients. Attorneys for the state also maintained that the state’s constitutional right to privacy doesn’t include the right to abortion, arguing that the state has an interest in safeguarding health and protecting potential life.

Data shows the majority of abortions in Florida occur before the 15-week cutoff. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said about 2% of the nearly 72,000 abortions reported in Florida in 2019 were performed after 15 weeks.

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad