Arguments resume in a case to temporarily block Florida's 15-week abortion ban
Judge John Cooper told the lawyers in the case he's likely to rule from the bench after hearing closing arguments, but that might not be soon enough to stop the new law from going into effect.
A second day of hearings in a case to temporarily block Florida’s 15 week abortion ban starts Thursday morning. The new law is set to go into effect July 1.
Leon County Judge John Cooper told the lawyers in the case he's likely to rule from the bench after closing arguments, but that might not be soon enough to stop the law from going into effect.
“I’m aware that July 1 is on Friday but all I can do is what I can do," Cooper said at the conclusion of the hearing's first day on Monday. "I don’t think it’s going to be reduced in writing by Friday because I’m going to give whoever is not the prevailing party 24 hours to review."
Cooper encouraged lawyers on both sides to have orders written "which can easily be modified depending on the ruling.”
A group of reproductive rights advocates including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union argue the law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy violates a privacy clause in the state constitution. They’re asking for an injunction on the law as the case moves forward.
On Monday, Cooper made it clear that the issue before him was the right of privacy, not abortion rights.
The state’s key witness was Maureen Condic, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah. She was initially asked her view on when life begins, but Judge Cooper interrupted.
Condic: “I think the conclusion that life begins at the instant of sperm-egg fusion is scientifically incontrovertible.”
Cooper: “I’m sorry, but how’s that relevant to this case. I’m not here to litigate abortion, I’m here to litigate the right of privacy in Florida.”
Florida law currently allows abortions up to 24 weeks and the plaintiffs seeking the injunction argue that banning abortions after 15 weeks, without exception for rape or incest, would violate the privacy rights of the Florida constitution that protect the confidentiality of the doctor patent relationship.
The burden, said Judge Cooper, rests with the state of Florida to prove otherwise. And Attorney John Percival representing the state of Florida, agreed.
“It’s a privacy right, and the Florida Supreme Court has said that requires me to presume that any law that interferes with a woman’s right to choose abortion is presumptively unconstitutional," Cooper said. "The burden shifts to the state to show reasons why it is constitutional."
The key witness for the plaintiffs Monday was Jacksonville-based obstetrician Dr. Shelly Tien, who testified that a ban after 15 weeks would hurt the under privileged most.
“Even though it is true that most abortions are performed early in pregnancy and prior to 15 weeks, we know that women who are seeking abortions and need abortions after 15 weeks are already in compelling and difficult circumstances. There are thousands of women and girls in the entire state of Florida that can develop complications after 15 weeks.”
Deputy Florida Attorney General John Guard focused on what he said would be the minimal impact that the law would have on women in Florida, but again Judge Cooper interrupted.
Guard: “That could mean that 96.4% of women who receive an abortion in the state of Florida would not be impacted by HB 5.”
Judge Cooper: “Or 1,600 would be.”
Guard: “That’s correct, your honor.”
Judge Cooper: “And all those who have become pregnant by rape would be effected by HB 5, right?"
Guard: “If you want, I’m happy to go there, and talk about the infrequency of actually women, who at least reported the forms in rape, but I was… ”
Judge Cooper: “OK.”
Information from WQCS was used in this report.
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