09.08.2023 – (PRESS RELEASE) The Florida Supreme Court heard oral argument today in a case brought by abortion providers challenging the state’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy as a blatant violation of decades of established law within the state constitution. In the case, the State has argued that Floridians have no state constitutional right to abortion and therefore politicians could ban abortion entirely. Unless the court blocks the 15-week ban, a separate law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year that bans abortion at six weeks in pregnancy — a time when many people don’t even know they are pregnant — will automatically go into effect 30 days after the court issues its decision.
The effects of the 15-week ban have been devastating for Floridians. Since the ban went into effect over a year ago, many people seeking abortions have been forced to travel long distances out of state to access care. Others have been forced to carry pregnancies against their will, subjecting them to the life-altering — and sometimes life-threatening — consequences of pregnancy.
Under the law’s limited exceptions, even patients in dire circumstances have been unable to get the care they need. In one circumstance, a woman whose water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy nearly died of sepsis after being forced to wait for lifesaving care. While she knew that her child would not survive and that continuing the pregnancy put her life at risk, she was sent to wait at home until her condition was so dangerous that a doctor could induce labor without violating the state’s law. In another situation, a 14-year-old survivor of rape was unable to have an abortion and forced to continue her pregnancy because Florida’s 15-week ban — compounding the traumatic experience the minor had to suffer in addition to sexual assault and an unwanted pregnancy.
Below are statements from plaintiffs and litigators:
Whitney White, staff attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project:
“The devastating 15-week ban has been in effect for more than a year, in defiance of four decades of well-established protections under the Florida Constitution. Not satisfied with that, the state has now asked the court to wipe out any constitutional protection for Floridians’ ability to have an abortion at all, clearing the way for Florida to enforce Gov. DeSantis’ ban on abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, a time when many people don’t even know they are pregnant. The Florida Supreme Court should respect the rule of law and protect the right of people to make personal medical decisions during pregnancy for themselves.”
Kelly Flynn, president and CEO, A Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville:
“Florida prides itself on individual freedom without government interference and abortion bans directly contradict who we are. This 15-week abortion ban undermines the care we provide to patients who come to our clinic, often under complex and difficult circumstances. Many patients in Florida aren’t able to receive an abortion by fifteen weeks, let alone six weeks, due to financial obstacles, logistical hurdles, and navigating overlapping policies designed to make it harder to provide and access care. A Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville has served as a crucial access point for abortion care in Florida and the South, and we remain committed to providing abortion care to Floridians and attaining abortion justice for all.”
Caroline Sacerdote, staff attorney, U.S. litigation, Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Florida’s 15-week abortion ban is endangering the health, safety, and dignity of Floridians. This ban blatantly violates the Florida Constitution and forces patients to travel hundreds, and even thousands, of miles to access abortion care—if they are able—or to forgo critical health care altogether. People in the Sunshine State deserve timely, compassionate, and affordable abortion care. The Florida Supreme Court should block this ban, putting a stop to the extraordinary hardships this ban continues to inflict on pregnant people every day.”
Stephanie Fraim, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida:
“Across the state, Floridians are outraged that the government continues to interfere in their personal medical decisions. The people’s voice needs to be part of this. Today, we brought that voice to the Florida Supreme Court. The people of Florida have said over and over that their right to control their own bodies and make their own health care decisions should remain a protected right in the Florida constitution. Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court must respect the decades of precedent that make this law clearly unconstitutional. Floridians understand that this ban is a gross overreach into their lives, and they will not stand for it. We will continue to fight for our reproductive rights through all possible avenues.”
Alexandra Mandado, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida:
“Every day that Florida’s abortion ban is in effect is another day that people’s lives are at risk. A decision upholding the abortion ban would be unconscionable, continuing to deny people control over their own bodies and futures. We already know that this ban has endangered Floridians and their families. Upholding it would only worsen our state’s health. When abortion is banned, health care providers cannot act in their patients’ best interest, and they cannot train the next generation of needed medical professionals to do so, either. The Florida Supreme Court must act in the interest of all Floridians and strike down this ban.”
April Otterberg, partner, Jenner & Block:
“HB5 unconstitutionally limits access to abortion services, a fundamental right that has long been protected by the Florida Constitution. We hope the Florida Supreme Court will enforce the state constitution and overturn this law.”
Hélène Barthelemy, staff attorney, ACLU of Florida:
“Let’s be clear: Floridians overwhelmingly support legal and safe abortion care. Floridians want the freedom to make their own private healthcare decisions without the government interfering in their personal lives. The court’s decision could harm even more people and prevent Floridians from deciding whether, if, when, how to continue their pregnancy before most even know they’re pregnant. We urge the Florida Supreme Court to act in accordance with the will of the people, protect their freedom to medical care, and block this unconstitutional ban.”
Despite overwhelming opposition to banning abortion among Florida voters and health care professionals, Gov. DeSantis signed the 15-week ban into law in spring of last year. This year, Gov. DeSantis signed a six-week ban that will go into effect unless the court blocks the 15-week ban.
Two-thirds of Floridians support the right to abortion, and voters have consistently cast their ballots to ensure that the state Constitution provides independent protection for the right to abortion. In 1980, Florida voters amended the state Constitution to provide broad protections for individual privacy rights — including abortion. And in 2012, voters overwhelmingly rejected Amendment 6, which would have taken those abortion protections away.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the law firm Jenner & Block filed the case — Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, et al. v. State of Florida, et al. — on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida; Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida; Gainesville Woman Care; Indian Rocks Woman’s Center; St. Petersburg Woman’s Health Center; Tampa Woman’s Health Center; A Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville; and an individual physician plaintiff.
An overview of the case and the complaint can be found here.
Center for Reproductive Rights: [email protected]
ACLU: [email protected]
ACLU of Florida: [email protected], 786-363-2737
PPFA: [email protected], 212-261-4433
PPSWCF/PPSENFL: [email protected], 850-212-1858