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Pam Bondi steps into federal case over state’s abortion law

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

A federal case on the state’s new abortion law has taken another twist with a filing from Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office.

Late Monday, her office notified the court of proposed rules related to the law that could affect Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle‘s consideration of a pending request for a preliminary injunction.

The controversy in question involves part of the law that requires those engaged in abortion referral or counseling services to pay a fee to register with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and provides for criminal penalties for not registering.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing several Florida reverends, rabbis and nonprofit organizations, is seeking the injunction to prevent enforcement of the provision. The plaintiffs say it infringes on their constitutional free speech and privacy rights.

Bondi, through Special Counsel Blaine Winship, asked the judge to take “judicial notice … of (a) proposed amended rule and registration form” newly developed by the agency.

Bondi’s filing says the new rule “clarifies that registration is only (required from those) ‘who are paid for the particular purpose of providing advice or assistance’ ” and “who provide advice or assistance to persons ‘in obtaining abortions or pursuing alternatives to abortion.’ “

Hinkle, during last month’s oral argument on the injunction, had raised questions on who was required to register. Bondi’s filing suggests, at the least, that the law does not apply to volunteers.

The rule and a “proposed registration form clarify that only registration is provided for, and not licensure, for which AHCA’s permission would be required,” it adds.

Another question in oral argument was whether the registration requirement constituted a form of licensing by the agency. The form sets the registration cost at $200.

“Moreover, neither the proposed rule nor the proposed registration form requires registration prior to advising or assisting persons,” the filing says.

Last month, Hinkle had mused that abortion counselors “can’t speak unless they’re registered (with the state, and) if they don’t pay, they can’t speak.”

An ACLU attorney in Miami declined comment on the filing until staff there reviewed it further.

Hinkle already has chipped away at the law, passed last year, striking down a section that would have banned abortion providers from receiving state funding for non-abortion services.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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