- Leon County Judge John Cooper ruled that the state’s 15-week abortion ban is unconstitutional, placing a temporary halt on the bill
- Cooper cited the Florida constitution, which contains an excerpt that states a worded right to privacy
- The bill, which was set to go into effect on July 1, still has a small potential window of enforcement before Cooper signs the temporary restraining documents
- The state is expected to appeal the decision
Leon County Judge John Cooper on Thursday deemed the state’s restriction on abortions after 15 weeks to be “unconstitutional” and announced he would temporarily overturn the statute.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 5 (HB 5) into law in April, restricting abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy, an effective ban on late-term abortions in the state. The bill, which was originally slated to go into effect July 1, permits exceptions in the instance of medical necessity or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not, however, allow for exemptions in cases where pregnancies were caused by rape, incest, or human trafficking.
Cooper claims that the bill is unconstitutional because it violates the state constitution’s privacy clause and “does not satisfy the standard” of judgments by the Florida Supreme Court that uphold the state’s legal right to abortion.
“Florida passed into its constitution an explicit right of privacy that is not contained in the U.S. Constitution,” Cooper said. “The Florida Supreme Court has determined in its words ‘Florida’s privacy provision is clearly implicated in a woman’s decision on whether or not to continue her pregnancy,” Cooper said. “In other words, on the issue of abortion, the Florida Supreme Court has decided that women have a privacy right under the state constitution to not have that right impacted up to 24 weeks at least.”
Cooper’s ruling is predicated on an excerpt of the state constitution that contains a worded right to privacy, though the passage does not explicitly mention abortion.
Article I, Section 23, of the Florida Constitution states: “Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein.”
Ultimately, Cooper ruled that the providers’ witnesses were “more credible” than the state’s witnesses and that the state’s justification for enforcing the statute was not “legally sufficient to sustain the statutory ban.”
Despite the ruling, the abortion law has a small window that may enable enforcement. The injunction goes into effect when Cooper signs the temporary restraining order, but stated he will not do so on Thursday. Given that the law is to become active on July 1, it can be deemed enforceable beginning Friday up to the point that Cooper signs the necessary documents.
It is expected that the state will file an appeal against the ruling.
Florida lawmakers were quick to react to the ruling, including Speaker of the House Rep. Chris Sprowls, who called the ruling “disappointing, but not unexpected.”
Today’s ruling on pro-life HB 5 is disappointing but not unexpected. This issue will need to be resolved in the [Florida courts], where I hope to see a correct interpretation of the state’s privacy clause & HB 5 implemented statewide to save tens of thousands of innocent babies’ lives,” said Sprowls.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Lauren Book lauded the ruling, claiming that the bill’s “overreaches were exposed” and that the ruling “reaffirms that the rights of women, girls, and sexual assault survivors in Florida.”
“Just hours before Florida’s cruel 15-week abortion ban with no exceptions for survivors of sexual assault was set to take effect, a judge rightfully ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The clear overreaches were exposed and the ruling reaffirms that the rights of women, girls, and sexual assault survivors in Florida will not be further eroded,” said Book. “Extremist GOP leaders will continue their crusade to strip away women’s rights and freedoms — that much is clear — but make no mistake: advocates for choice and for women to have autonomy over their bodies will be there at every turn, continuing to fight with everything we have until women’s rights are fully restored. Thank you to Planned Parenthood, their supporters, and to Judge Cooper for upholding Florida’s Constitution which clearly protects abortion access in our state.”