TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge said Thursday he would temporarily block a 15-week ban on abortions in his state, but his bench ruling won’t go into effect until the ban becomes law. Friday – an issue that could cause confusion for patients as well as abortion providers.
Meanwhile, a Kentucky judge temporarily blocked that state’s near-total ban on abortions, allowing proceedings to resume after being abruptly halted when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week. The state quickly appealed the judge’s order.
The cases in Florida and Kentucky mirror battles fought in courts across the country after the Supreme Court ruled abortion was no longer protected by the federal constitution. The High Court has left it to the states to decide whether abortion is legal within their borders, forcing lawyers on both sides of the debate to turn to their state constitutions.
Some of the legal disputes involve trigger laws — like those in Kentucky and Florida — that were specifically designed to take effect if Roe were to fall. Some involve prohibitions that have been on the books, unenforced, for generations. Others involve abortion bans that were suspended pending the Roe ruling and are now moving forward.
Legal wrangling is creating chaos for patients, including some in Kentucky who have been turned away from clinics and rescheduled appointments in neighboring states. The owner of North Dakota’s only abortion clinic – which operates until July 28 – said a patient wrote on a form: ‘Am I going to be sued for having an abortion today?’
In Florida, Judge John C. Cooper said Thursday he would temporarily block the 15-week abortion ban from taking effect after reproductive health providers argued that the state constitution guaranteed the right to procedure. Cooper said Florida’s ban was “unconstitutional in that it violates the secrecy provision of the Florida Constitution.”
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would appeal.
Cooper’s decision, issued from the bench, will not be binding until he signs a written order – which does not appear to happen until Tuesday. This means the 15-week ban will come into effect on Friday, as scheduled, and the time lag raises questions about whether some patients will be affected. Current Florida law allows abortion up to 24 weeks.
Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said clinics were still seeing patients and operating within the law, but the situation was difficult for doctors.
“It’s a lot of unnecessary delays and patients are at the mercy of the justice system right now,” she said.
The back-and-forth legal activity has also caused confusion in other states.
The Texas attorney general filed an emergency appeal with the state Supreme Court on Thursday, after a lower court judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a decades-old law banning virtually all abortions. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the old law banning abortions unless necessary to save the mother’s life remains on the books.
Texas already bans most abortions after about six weeks – before many women know they are pregnant – with no exceptions for rape or incest. A separate trigger law that would ban virtually all abortions in the state is expected to go into effect in the coming months.
In Louisiana, where the abortion ban is temporarily stalled, doctors at a New Orleans clinic were performing procedures on Thursday – despite a letter from the attorney general warning that providers could lose their ‘freedom and medical license’ , said Amy Irvin, a spokeswoman for the Women’s Health Care Center.
And in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday he would convene a special legislative session to address abortion law there. West Virginia prohibits abortions after 20 weeks, but the state also has a law dating back to the mid-1800s that provides that anyone seeking an abortion be charged with a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union disputes this.
In Kentucky, clinics planned to resume abortion services after their abrupt hiatus last week.
Both Louisville clinics have begun scheduling appointments. Amber Duke, acting executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said the Louisville EMW Women’s Surgical Center will resume abortion services on Friday. She said that since the Supreme Court ruling, EMW has turned away 199 patients with scheduled appointments, including 14 who were at the clinic when the Supreme Court issued its ruling. She said denying them care was “devastating”.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, said Thursday’s decision had no basis in the state constitution. He asked the state Court of Appeals to block the lower court’s decision, saying that every day the laws are suspended means “more unborn lives will be lost.”
Reproductive health providers challenged Florida law based on a 1980 state constitutional amendment guaranteeing a broad right to privacy, which was interpreted by the state Supreme Court to include abortion. The state said the right to privacy does not include the right to abortion, arguing that the state has an interest in protecting health and protecting potential life.
In a statement, DeSantis said the Florida Supreme Court had previously misinterpreted Florida’s right to privacy “because the Florida Constitution does not – and never has included – the right to kill. an innocent unborn child”.
Elsewhere, the owner of North Dakota’s only abortion clinic said she works in an unpredictable environment. Tammi Kromenaker, owner and operator of Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, said her clinic was still offering procedures, but was told it had to stop by July 28. Then she will move the clinic across state lines to Moorhead, Minnesota.
“The biggest thing I need to get out is that we’re still here, we’re still seeing patients,” Kromenaker said. “Patients should not be faced with these fears and confusion just for what was once constitutionally protected medical care.”