Florida Supreme Court is still reviewing abortion argument 6-months later
A new battle over abortion in Florida is occurring Wednesday as the Florida Supreme Court hears arguments over whether or not an abortion-protection initiative should be allowed on the November ballot.
However, another legal challenge over abortion in Florida is still under review.
The right to privacy
In September, the seven-justice court – five of which were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis – listened to the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Central and Southwest Florida, challenge the state’s 15-week abortion ban, arguing that it violated a state constitutional right to decisional privacy.
Florida’s defense attorney, State Solicitor General Henry Whitaker, argued that the state right to privacy covers a narrow scope and only protects residents’ informational right to privacy.
In 2022, DeSantis signed the “Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act,” which placed a ban on abortions after the 15-week gestational period.
After the 2023 legislative session, DeSantis signed a 6-week abortion ban into law, also known as the “Heartbeat Protection Act.” Should the court uphold the 15-week ban the 6-week ban would trigger 30 days later.
The court does not have a deadline to deliver its opinion on the argument.
However, Wednesday’s ballot initiative battle must be settled by April 1st.
The 2024 election ballot
Earlier this year the group Floridians Protecting Freedom submitted the necessary 1 million signatures (the group said it collected nearly 1.5 million) to place an initiative in support of protecting the right to an abortion on the November ballot for the 2024 general election.
The ballot initiative, should the court rule in favor of it, would say:
“no law shall prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient's health as determined by the patient's health care provider.”
In October, Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a proposal with the Florida Supreme Court to keep the abortion measure off the 2024 ballot.
Moody took issue with the use of the word “viability,” arguing that it’s misleading since it has two meanings to mothers. In an opinion piece, she argued that "viability" means whether or not a baby is expected to have a normal gestation through delivery, and whether or not a baby can survive outside of the uterus.
According to ACLU legislative director Kara Gross, the court will examine two things regarding the ballot initiative. First, whether or not the ballot title and the ballot summary are about a single subject. Second, whether or not the ballot title and the ballot summary, accurately reflect the amendment text.
“The language is virtually identical for the summary and for the text, there can be no argument that it is misleading, or that it is confusing to the voters, or that there's some sort of bait and switch because they're identical,” Gross said.
Furthermore, Gross said the current abortion legal framework has been harmful to Florida’s most vulnerable population.
“They’re already having trouble making ends meet, who will not have the ability, the time off from work, the flexibility, the finances, to be able to travel to other states to get the care that they need,” she said.
Other challenges and where to watch the argument
While the legal battles play out, Florida legislators are doubling down and preparing more abortion bills during the current legislative session. A proposed bill, HB 1519, would outlaw nearly all abortions sans a procedure that could save a mother’s life. A second bill, SB 476, would allow civil lawsuits for damages against healthcare practitioners providing abortion services.
According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, in 2023, when the 15-week abortion ban went into effect, Florida abortion procedures were down by comparison to the previous year. However, the number of out-of-state patients increased from 6,700 in 2022 to 7,100 in 2023.
“Florida currently is one of the only places in the southeast where people can access the abortion care that they need up to 15 weeks,” said Gross. “Currently, that could change. If the Court were to uphold the 15-week ban, and a six-week ban was to go into effect, this would be devastating not just for Floridians, but for the entire southeast.”
The oral argument is scheduled for 9 a.m. and can be watched here.