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Abortion rights groups sue over Florida's 15-week ban

Abortion.jfif
Patrick Sternad
/
WFSU
A group gathered outside the Florida Capitol to protest a bill that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks.

Florida abortion providers and health centers — including two in North Florida — filed suit Wednesday in an attempt to block a new state law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The lawsuit, filed in Leon County by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and several abortion providers, contends that House Bill 5 threatens to jail doctors for providing essential care beyond 15 weeks and violates patients' privacy rights, particularly women in marginalized communities.

Plaintiffs include Planned Parenthood of North Florida and A Woman's Choice of Jacksonville.

"When it comes to pregnancy, birth, and parenting, patients and their families make the best decisions for themselves and their loved ones, consistent with their values and beliefs," Dr. Shelly Tien of Jacksonville, an abortion provider with Planned Parenthood, said in a written statement. "Everyone should have the fundamental right to make these deeply personal decisions that profoundly impact the arc of their lives within the privacy of the physician-patient relationship.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the 15-week ban into law in April, taking effect July 1. The law does not make exceptions for cases of incest, rape or human trafficking. It does allow an abortion if it would save the life of a pregnant person or prevent serious injury to them.

The law also includes exceptions for fetal abnormalities that are discovered after 15 weeks. In such cases, two doctors must sign off saying the baby will die shortly after birth before an abortion can happen.

Legislators passed Florida's law as a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion signaled the court may uphold a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks — possibly overturning Roe v. Wade.

Florida previously prohibited abortions at 24 weeks. More than 79,000 women received abortions in Florida last year, including 5,450 in Northeast Florida.

In signing HB 5, DeSantis said the 15-week ban "protects babies in the womb who have beating hearts, who can move, who can taste, who can see, and who can feel pain."

"Life is a sacred gift worthy of our protection, and I am proud to sign this great piece of legislation which represents the most significant protections for life in the state's modern history," DeSantis said.

But the abortion rights supporters said two-thirds of Floridians support the right to abortion and voters have consistently voted to ensure that the state Constitution provides protection for the right to abortion.

"HB 5 will force Floridians to remain pregnant against their will, violating their dignity and bodily autonomy, and endangering their families, their health, and even their lives," they said in a news release. "The impacts of pushing reproductive health care out of reach in the middle of a maternal mortality crisis will fall hardest on Black women, who are nearly three times more likely than white women to die during childbirth, or shortly after."

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, where, as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. You can reach Randy at rroguski@wjct.org or on Twitter, @rroguski.