TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Supreme Court will review a new, 15-week spanbortion lspanw that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican lawmakers are considering mspanking even tougher, but justices set span schedule that likely delays a decision on its constitutionality until much later this year.
The deadlines for filing briefs in the case means DeSantis and the Legislature will not have a decision on whether the 15-week limit is upheld until after the two-month legislspantive session is scheduled to end in May.
DeSantis, who hspans promised to “expand pro-life protections,” has avoided questions for months about how far he wants to limit abortion access in Florida until the court rules on the current standard, which he signed into law last April.
“From here, we will continue to defend our pro-life protections,” Bryan Griffin, a DeSantis spokesman, said of the court’s action. “The Declaration of Independence enumerates three unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–and we stand for all of them.”
Justices unveiled a drawn-out schedule for briefs to be filed in the case as part of a two-page order released Monday night in which they also accepted jurisdiction.
The case had been in the First District Court of Appeal since last summer, when Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled the law unconstitutional and the state appealed.
Florida’s strictest abortion law in almost half-century
The measure which took effect July 1 bans most abortions in Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest, reducing what had been a 24-week standard in place for almost a half-century.
Separately, in a 4-1 decision, justices denied a motion by Planned Parenthood groups and other plaintiffs to block the law while the case is being reviewed.
“While we are pleased that the court didn’t shut its doors completely, we are dismayed that it has allowed this dangerous ban to remain in effect and to harm real people each and every day until this case is finally decided,” said Whitney White, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, who had argued the case before Cooper.
“We hope the court acts quickly and follows 40 years of precedent and the will of the people to stop this unconstitutional, 15-week abortion ban, which has caused chaos and devastation in the state since going into effect in July,” she added.
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Refusing to block the law were Justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans. Justice Jorge Labarga supported issuing a stay on the 15-week law. Chief Justice Carlos Muniz and Justice Renatha Francis did not participate in the ruling.
DeSantis has appointed a majority of the seven-member Supreme Court.
Nationwide new limits have spread
The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning in June of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide has given states full authority to create their own policies.
Since June, near-total bans on abortion have been implemented in 12 states, with legal challenges pending against several of these procedures. Elective abortions also are unavailable in two other states and bans approved in three more states have been approved, but subsequently blocked by courts.
Vice President Kamala Harris came to Tallahassee last Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by calling out Republican leaders for pushing for limits that undermine abortion access.
VP Harris aims at DeSantis
Some of her remarks seemed directed toward DeSantis, who frequently touts the ‘free state of Florida.’
“Can we truly be free if so-called leaders claim to be, I quote, ‘on the vanguard of freedom,’ while they dare to restrict the rights of the American people and attack the very foundation of freedom?” she asked.
Many anti-abortion advocates think DeSantis will push for a so-called heartbeat bill, prohibiting most abortions after six weeks. While other activists are pushing for an outright ban, some predict that state lawmakers will instead take more modest steps, reducing the current law to 12-weeks.
The state Supreme Court’s schedule, though, may delay any proposals from the governor or Legislature for months.
The schedule outlined by the court calls for the Planned Parenthood groups and allies to submit its first briefs by Feb. 27, with the state then having 30 days to submit its own view of the case.
Two more rounds of reply briefs – separated by 30-day windows – are then allowed, with more paperwork also possible. Justices did not set a date for when they want to hear arguments in the case.
All told, the schedule easily sets up the likelihood that justices won’t rule on the constitutionality of the 15-week law until at least some time this summer.
Florida’s privacy right a target for abortion opponents
Attorneys for the state are expected to ask justices to reverse decades of precedent and rule that Florida’s constitutional right to privacy does not protect abortion rights.
Cooper relied on the court’s 1989 “T.W.” ruling, when the state Supreme Court overturned a parental consent law for minors seeking abortion, saying it violated that privacy right.
The privacy right states that “every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion.” It was added to the state constitution by voters in 1980.
But last fall, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office filed briefs with the Supreme Court in favor of keeping the 15-week law in place while the appeal was being considered. Her attorneys cited the words used in the right.
“That language is naturally read to limit governmental snooping and information-gathering – but not to establish a liberty to destroy unborn (or any other) life.”