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Judge Gives State More Time To Defend Abortion Law

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A Tallahassee judge gave Florida officials more time to present their defense of a two-year old law requiring women to wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion, but seemed skeptical that the state would convince him to keep the law on the books.
Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis gave Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harle 60 days to make her case on behalf of the state, after chastising her for failing to gather the evidence she says she needs in the two years since the legal challenges began — and more than five months after the Florida Supreme Court put the law on hold for a second time in February.

"If I were in your shoes, I think I would have been ready a long time ago," Lewis said during an hour-long hearing Wednesday. "On the other hand, I think it's very important that, whatever happens here, there is a complete record."

Lawyers for Gainesville Woman Care — an abortion clinic that filed the lawsuit along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the Center for Reproductive Rights and others — have asked Lewis to permanently strike down the law, which has been on hold for more than a year.

They argue that the law is an unconstitutional violation of the right to privacy.

A Leon County circuit judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the law from being implemented, but the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned that decision in early 2016.

The appeals court pointed to a lack of evidence to support the temporary injunction, but the Supreme Court issued a stay temporarily blocking the law while it considered the matter. The high court then approved a temporary injunction in February, ruling that enactment of the law "would lead to irreparable harm."

But Harle told Lewis on Wednesday that the state needs more time to gather data about women in other states who have changed their minds after having to wait 24 hours before getting the procedure.

The evidence could show that what Harle called "a very short period of time," meaning 24 hours, would be the minimum required for women to give what is called "informed consent" prior to undergoing the procedure.