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Federal judge bars enforcement of new Florida abortion law

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

A federal judge in Tallahassee has temporarily stopped enforcement of parts of a new state law on abortion.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction late Thursday—one day before the new law was to take effect.

His order also came the same week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Texas law that clamped down on abortion access because it “unduly burden(s)” women’s reproductive rights.

Hinkle referred in passing to Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in his 25-page order.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state sought the court order to prevent the Florida law’s enforcement.

They are challenging three elements of the law: Its defunding of their groups, a required annual inspection of half of its abortion patient files, and a redefinition of fetal trimesters, according to Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

On the defunding and file inspection provisions, Hinkle preliminarily found that Planned Parenthood plaintiffs were “likely to prevail on the merits of their challenge.”

The state’s defunding of Planned Parenthood is “squarely on the unconstitutional side of the line,” Hinkle wrote.

“The defunding provision has nothing to do with the state and local spending programs at issue, which address things like testing for sexually transmitted disease,” he wrote. “The defunding provision is instead an effort to leverage the funding of those programs to reach abortion services.

“Nobody has contended that the plaintiffs have done anything in connection with the publicly funded programs that is inconsistent in any way with the goals of those programs,” he added. “The state’s only beef is that the plaintiffs provide abortions.”

Hinkle also likened the file inspection provision to a search without a warrant, which the Constitution allows in some cases, “but only when the government makes available an opportunity for pre-enforcement review of the official’s demand to see records.”

“Here, the state apparently has not made available an opportunity for pre-enforcement review,” he wrote. “This, standing alone, renders the state’s system facially unconstitutional.”

As to the redefined trimesters, Hinkle noted the difference in licensing for abortion clinics, in which abortions performed at a later stage in pregnancy require stricter regulations.

The new law redefines the first trimester from starting at the mother’s last menstrual period to beginning at “fertilization.” But Hinkle said that doesn’t change the math for determining what kind of clinic can perform a later-term abortion and denied relief on that issue.

Under federal court rules, the Planned Parenthood plaintiffs have to pay a $5,000 bond by July 7. Otherwise, the “injunction will remain in place until entry of a final judgment in this action or until otherwise ordered.”

The “order addresses the issues based on the record as compiled to this point and reaches legal conclusions based on likelihood of success,” Hinkle wrote. “This is not a final judgment on the merits.”

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

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