Judge hears plaintiffs and state spar over challenge to Florida’s 24-hour waiting requirement

By Dave Andrusko

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis

Another round of arguments took place Tuesday in the courtroom of Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis in an ongoing fight over Florida’s HB633, signed into law by pro-life Gov. Rick Scott in June 2015.

The state asked Judge Lewis to order a trial on the merits of HB633, a law that would require a pregnant woman to meet with an abortionist and wait 24-hours before she can have an abortion, should she decide to proceed.

But lawyers representing Gainesville Woman Care LLC, want Judge Lewis to issue a summary judgment. Julia Kaye, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, asked Lewis “to invalidate the law because it would provide no exceptions in cases where women’s health could be in jeopardy and because the state has not shown a ‘compelling interest’ for restricting the constitutional right to privacy,” according to Lloyd Dunkelberger, of the News Service of Florida.

Citing expert medical testimony, Blaine Winship, a lawyer representing the state, countered that

abortion procedures are an “outlier in medical practice” because most other procedures are not performed on the same day that an initial consultation between a doctor and patient takes place.

“The Legislature has acted to bring abortions in line with standard medical practice,” Winship said. “Not out of hostility to the procedure but out of a legitimate concern that women must have the same opportunity for informed consent as patients have with respect with every other invasive procedure that the field of medicine offers.”

Dunkelberger reported that the judge gave the state and the lawyers representing Gainesville Woman Care LLC until December 1 to submit proposed orders.

The case has bounced back and forth numerous times through the judicial system. The legal wrangle back and forth is hugely complicated.

In 2015, two weeks after Gov. Scott signed HB 633 into law, Circuit Court Judge Charles Francis agreed with the plaintiffs who’d challenged the law. They maintained the waiting period requirement creates an “undue burden” and violates the state Constitution’s right of privacy.

The state appealed to Florida’s First District Court of Appeals which reversed the injunction order and immediately reinstated the law. Undeterred the plaintiffs appealed to the Florida Supreme Court which halted the law in April 2016 while the justices pondered whether to take the case. They did in May 2016.

Then in February 2017 in a 4-2 decision written by Justice Barbara Pariente, the justices upheld the temporary injunction it had issued 10 months before. Justice Pariente relied heavily on the state Constitution’s right to privacy, and concluded the 2015 law has a “substantial likelihood” of being ruled unconstitutional.

The justices said a lower court–in this case, Judge Lewis–would determine whether the law is constitutional.