US judge considers fate of new Florida abortion law


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A federal judge was asked Wednesday to block a sweeping new law that puts restrictions on abortion clinics in Florida, days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law with some similar features.

Like the Texas law, Florida’s new law imposes requirements on physicians who perform abortions.

But the lawsuit by Planned Parenthood takes aim at other provisions in the new law too, including one that would prevent any state funds being used to pay for services provided by an organization that also provides abortions.

Florida’s law is due to take effect Friday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said he may rule before then. During a sharp exchange with attorneys he sounded skeptical about the measure passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.

Hinkle asked whether the point of the new law was to penalize Planned Parenthood for doing something protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“You can absolutely refuse to fund abortion,” Hinkle said. “The question is can you refuse to fund other services?”

Denise Harle, a deputy solicitor general, argued that the law was constitutional because it did nothing to prevent women from getting abortions. Instead she said legislators passed the measure because they didn’t want the state to be “associated with entities that create further controversy.”

Lawmakers passed the bill several months after an outcry over allegations that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue. Gov. Rick Scott ordered inspections of 16 Florida clinics last summer after videos surfaced showing organization officials in other parts of the country discussing fetal organ research.

State investigators found no evidence that Planned Parenthood in Florida purchased or sold human organs or tissue, but regulators did contend that three clinics had performed second-trimester abortions that violated their licenses. State officials, however, later dropped their complaints.

The measure that passed by a largely party-line vote says doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, or that the clinic must have a patient transfer agreement. It redefines dates of gestation and pregnancy trimesters, which affect when abortions can be performed, and increases clinic inspection requirements and licensing fees.

Republican supporters have contended the legislation was aimed at protecting women’s health.

Planned Parenthood is challenging the funding prohibition, additional inspection requirements and the change in pregnancy trimesters. Officials with the organization said the new law has already led to the cancellation of contracts covering about $500,000 in services provided for everything from dropout prevention programs to health care services provided for low-income women.

“This is about politicians getting in the middle of making health care decisions about women,” said Barbara Zdravecky, President/CEO, Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida

The court action this week was just a new chapter in a long-running battle over abortion in the Sunshine State. Since the GOP assumed control of the Florida Legislature two decades ago legislators have enacted a series of bills only to see many of them overturned in the courts. The Florida Supreme Court in April suspended a 24-hour waiting period for abortions while it decides whether that law is constitutional.

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