Florida Supreme Court upholds state's 15-week abortion ban that lower court initially blocked

 April 3, 2024

Coinciding with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, Florida, like many other Republican-led states, immediately enacted a ban on abortion procedures after 15 weeks, which was subsequently challenged by a coalition of pro-abortion groups.

A state district court ruled the 15-week ban was unconstitutional but that judgment was reversed by a state appeals court and now the Florida Supreme Court has upheld that reversal and allowed the limitation on abortions to stand, ABC News reported.

On the same day, however, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled in favor of allowing a proposed initiative to appear on November's ballot that, if passed by a sufficient majority, would amend the state's constitution to include protection of abortion rights.

15-week abortion ban upheld

Courthouse News Service reported that the pro-abortion groups who challenged Florida's 15-week abortion ban argued that the law violated the state constitution's clause protecting the right to privacy, but a 6-1 court majority determined that the privacy clause did not "guarantee the right to an abortion through the end of the second trimester."

On behalf of the majority, Justice Jamie Grosshans wrote, "Those legal arguments on the privacy clause’s meaning are, in our view, distinct from the serious moral, ethical, and policy issues that are implicated in the subject matter of this case."

"After considering each of these sources and consistent with longstanding principles of judicial deference to legislative enactments, we conclude there is no basis under the privacy clause to invalidate the statute," she continued.

"The decision to have an abortion may have been made in solitude, but the procedure itself included medical intervention and required both the presence and intrusion of others," Grosshans wrote at another point. "The debate -- as framed to the public -- overwhelmingly associated the privacy clause’s terms with concerns related to government surveillance and disclosure of private information to the public."

Florida's privacy clause

Florida Supreme Court Justice Meredith Sasso agreed, albeit for a different reason, and penned a concurring opinion which asserted that the groups who challenged the 15-week abortion ban, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, lacked the required standing to make privacy clause claims on behalf of other, according to Courthouse News.

"Traditionally, this court considered as well-settled the rule that one who is not himself denied some constitutional right or privilege cannot be heard to raise constitutional questions on behalf of some other person who may at some future time be affected," she said.

In dissent was Justice Jorge Labarga, who noted prior examples of the Florida high court using the same privacy clause to reject previous attempts to roll back abortion rights, and argued that the current decision "recedes from decades of this court’s precedent."

He further observed that privacy rights didn't automatically become null and void just because others may be involved in a personal matter, particularly health-related, and wrote, "In the interest of patient privacy, medical matters, including countless forms of medical procedures, are broadly afforded confidentiality protections with narrowly tailored exceptions."

Court approves ballot initiative that could roll back abortion restrictions if passed by voters

The Hill reported that the Florida Supreme Court's ruling to uphold the 15-week abortion ban served as a trigger to enact within 30 days a six-week abortion ban that was passed last year but was held in abeyance until the challenge against the 15-week ban was settled.

All of that may become moot after November, however, as Florida's high court, which serves as a "gatekeeper" to ensure the language of ballot initiatives is limited to a single subject and not confusing to voters, granted its approval to a measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the state's constitution.

Per Courthouse News, the initiative must receive at least 60% support from voters, but if it does the resultant constitutional amendment would prohibit any limitations on abortion procedures before the viability of a fetus, which is generally around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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