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Siding With Planned Parenthood, Federal Judge Blocks Florida’s New, Restrictive Abortion Law

| July 1, 2016

Kelli Stargell

Sen. Kelli Stargell, the Lakeland Republican who sponsored the legislation now blocked, is not happy. (Florida Southern)

Siding with Planned Parenthood affiliates, a federal judge late Thursday blocked key provisions of a sweeping new state law that would have barred abortion providers from receiving public funds for other services and required a dramatic increase in inspections of abortion records by health officials.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s preliminary injunction came just hours before the new law would have gone into effect.

Planned Parenthood affiliates are challenging three portions of the law, approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year. Hinkle sided with the abortion providers in two of the three components, and ruled that state officials had resolved concerns about a third — dealing with a change in the definition of the first trimester — during a hearing in the case on Wednesday.

“We are reviewing the judge’s order and exploring our options,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in an email Friday.

Planned Parenthood officials lauded Hinkle’s order.

“As a result of today’s decision, thousands of people across Florida have the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can access essential reproductive health care, such as cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams. This ruling also sends an unmistakable message to politicians to quit playing politics with women’s health,” Lillian A. Tamayo, president of Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, said in a statement.

In his 25-page ruling, Hinkle noted that there has been a long-held prohibition against using public funds to pay for abortions.

But the Florida law goes further and “refuses to fund services that are wholly unrelated to abortions,” Hinkle wrote of the part of the law that would block public funds from going to abortion providers.

“The provision does this based not on any objection to how the funds are being spent — on things like testing for sexually transmitted disease or dropout prevention — and not based on any objection to the quality of the services being provided, but solely because the recipients of the funds choose to provide abortions separate and apart from any public funding — as the Supreme Court has put it, on their ‘own time and dime,'” he wrote.

In determining that the defunding provision in Florida’s law was unconstitutional, Hinkle relied on the “unconstitutional-conditions doctrine,” which means that governments cannot indirectly prohibit — by withholding funds — conduct which they cannot directly ban.

The doctrine puts the “defunding provision at here 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 and dropout prevention,” Hinkle wrote. “The defunding provision is instead an effort to leverage the funding of those programs to reach abortion services. Indeed, the separation between the funding and the condition could not be clearer: 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. The state’s only beef is that the plaintiffs provide abortions.”

Planned Parenthood officials said the ban on public funds would cause clinics to lose about $500,000 in state and local funds used for other services, including a dropout prevention program in Palm Beach County.

Hinkle’s order bars the state from canceling contracts or grants, or from refusing to renew or allowing to expire contracts or grants that would have continued in the absence of the new law.

Relying in part on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas abortion law, lawyers for the state argued that the ban on using public funds for other services was permissible because it did not impose an “undue burden” on a women’s right to an abortion.

But Hinkle disagreed.

“No court has embraced the defendants’ position. And there is no logic to it. That a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion does not mean a legislature can impose otherwise-unconstitutional conditions on public funding,” the judge wrote.

Hinkle also found problematic the portion of the law that would have required health officials to inspect half of all abortion patients’ records, saying the state offered “no legitimate explanation for the requirement, asserting only that the clinics’ records are already subject to inspection, and that increasing the number of records that are inspected thus cannot be unconstitutional.”

But no other medical providers — including ambulatory surgical centers, which perform more complicated procedures and have more adverse outcomes — are not subject to the same scrutiny, Hinkle noted.

“The state has inspected the plaintiffs’ clinics for years. The inspections have turned up no violations. For all that is shown by this record, the inspection provision is a solution in search of a problem,” Hinkle wrote.

The new law also changes the definition of a first trimester to the period from fertilization through the end of the 11th week of pregnancy. That’s a different definition than the state has used in the past, and a departure from the definition used by doctors and other health care providers, according to court documents.

Planned Parenthood had challenged that part of the law, saying it was vague.

But, on Wednesday, Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harle told Hinkle state health officials have not changed their interpretation of the number of weeks and days that make up a first trimester. The issue is important because clinics that perform second-trimester abortions are required to have a different license than those that perform procedures during earlier pregnancies.

Hinkle did not block that part of the law from going into effect, but he warned the state to “take note” that his decision was based on the state’s representation that the new definition of first trimester was no different than that which has been used for decades.

Hinkle’s Thursday ruling did not deal with the merits of the lawsuit, but granted the preliminary injunction based on the likelihood that those challenging the law will succeed. Briefs on the merits are due later this month.

State Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who sponsored the 2016 law, blasted Hinkle’s ruling as “a clear infringement on both the Legislature’s constitutional authority to appropriate taxpayer dollars, and our responsibility to properly regulate medical facilities.”

“Under our constitution, it is the people’s elected representatives, not appointed federal judges, who are tasked with making decisions about what entities should be receiving limited taxpayer dollars,” Stargel said in a statement. “The people of Florida have consistently elected legislative and executive leaders who oppose the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortion and today’s ruling is yet another example of the pro-abortion movement utilizing the courtroom to fight battles it cannot win at the ballot box.”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said he trusts Hinkle to “thoroughly examine all of the facts” before the judge issues a final ruling.

“If so, he’ll find the actions of the House and Senate are both constitutional and within the legislative branch’s authority,” Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in an email.

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

13 Responses for “Siding With Planned Parenthood, Federal Judge Blocks Florida’s New, Restrictive Abortion Law”

  1. Nancy N. says:

    Sen Stargel needs an education in Constitutional law. We have a Constitution in this country PRECISELY to prevent “the will of the people” from overrunning and infringing on the rights of the minority. A lot of things that were wrong in the history of this country have been overruled by the court based on the Constitution over the will of immoral majority: bans of interracial marriage, school segregation, bans on gay marriage, death penalties for minors. Just because the majority wants something, doesn’t make it right or legal. The fact that our Constitution protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority is what makes this country great. What an appropriate weekend to be reminded of that.

  2. Knightwatch says:

    Yea! A big win for PP and all women, Eat dirt conservatives.

  3. karma says:

    And a big loss to the child with no voice to speak. We have people on here cheering the right to kill with scissors. Yet the same people are for gun control.I guess it’s the. if you don’t see it, it’s not happening theory.

  4. Nancy N. Really? says:

    Nancy I understood your statement until you call people who stand against gay marriage and abortion the “immoral majority”. By definition immoral means wicked and evil. People who try to stand up for the rights of an unborn child are neither wicked or evil. I for one believe that abortion is murder. I believe that life begins at conception. Does that make me immoral in your eyes? I also do not want MY tax dollars to be spent on murdering babies. I don’t feel the need to force my godly principles on others just don’t ask for my money to commit murder. As far as gay marriage….looks like that battle was lost. I chose not to affiliate with anyone who is participating in that sin….live and let live. At least they are tying to use my money to get married. Yet…

  5. Sherry says:

    Again. . . when all men step up and:

    1. NEVER, EVER have sex with a woman without her explicit agreement!

    2. Buy and wear condoms each and every time they and their partner mutually agree to have sex without mutually agreeing to have a baby together

    3. Fully support in every way, every child they have created until at least that child’s 30th birthday

    4. Fully support their female partners in their personal choices for their bodies

    AND, when ALL citizens agree to financially support (through taxes for government programs, etc.) all children that cannot be supported by their birth mother. . . until the child’s 30th birthday

    Then and only then should anyone be pontificating about a woman’s “RIGHT” to CHOOSE what happens to her own body!!!

  6. karma says:

    Sherry- if we use your logic on this. Why can’t a mother just kill the child at age one because she realizes she can not take care of it.

  7. Mr Abortion says says:

    Why stop abortions at the third trimester, lets just go ahead and keep on aborting them right up until the age of 35. This way you can weed out all of the ones who are just not up to your expectations.It is just a little difference in age. Why this would even help in world population control like the Georgian Guide Stones are calling for 500,000,000 total people on earth. I don’t see any problem do you?

  8. Sherry says:

    YES. . . all ye who have no “reasonable” response. . . please show us your lack of mental prowess by continuing to extrapolate all debates out to the absurd and ridiculous. . . right along with your completely idiotic thought processes!

  9. Mr Abortion Says says:

    Sherry, To me you are the one with an idiotic, and may I say murderous, out look about this topic. Abortion is the taking of a human life. I don’t see how one can make the distinction of importance a human being during the different stages of the life process. Is life more valuable out of the womb really, and to whom? I was and am trying to get you to give me your reason that your life is more valued than the unborn children you want aborted. At what stage from fertilized egg to geriatrics do we put the highest value on life, and what is this reason?

  10. Sherry says:

    Mister ANYBODY has no business pontificating on the subject of a woman’s rights over her own body period. . . . end of discussion!!!

  11. Mr. Abortion Says says:

    Sherry, You need to keep your legs crossed then. All the rules you’ve spouted about men wearing condoms and respecting a woman’s control over her body, yet you want the right to pronounce a death sentence on an unborn child so you can have a few minutes of pleasure with a man. What about the rights of a living unborn child? Do you not have any respect at all for life? No compassion!

  12. Every child has two parents says:

    Sherry-When a woman is incapable of conceiving by herself and every baby is just as must of a mans as it is the woman’s a woman is not entitled to have a say so and should have no rights–both parents should have a say so! Men every day are fighting for their children and woman who are unfit still have rights. The woman has the right to keep her legs closed. End of story!

  13. Jim Bob says:

    The American taliban is speaking. Thankfully, President Trump will punish women who choose abortion.

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