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Florida Seeks To Clear Way For Abortion Waiting Period

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - As Florida lawmakers consider blocking abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the state also is seeking to scuttle a court challenge to a 2015 law that would require women to wait 24 hours before having abortions.

Attorney General Ashley Moody's office this week filed a motion asking a Leon County circuit judge to rule against a Gainesville abortion clinic and other plaintiffs who contend the waiting-period law violates privacy and equal-protection rights.

The Florida Supreme Court in 2017 approved a temporary injunction that blocked the law, but the underlying legal issues have not been resolved.

The state's 30-page motion, filed Tuesday, asked Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey to grant summary judgment in favor of the law, a move that would effectively short-circuit a trial scheduled to start in April.

The motion contends Florida has a "compelling state interest" in ensuring that pregnant women have time to review required information and "make a fully informed decision before they undergo the often life-changing decision to have an abortion."

"The challenged law adds a 24-hour waiting period between when women seeking abortions are provided with the information and when the abortions may take place," the motion said.

"This short period allows women to process the information received and fully consider what is a life-changing decision."

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, including clinic operator Gainesville Woman Care, LLC, have not filed a response to the motion.

But during the case, they have argued the waiting-period law violates privacy and equal-protection rights in the Florida Constitution.

In part, they have contended that the law improperly treats abortion differently from other medical procedures that do not require waiting periods.

"Florida law does not require any patient other than a woman seeking an abortion to delay a medical procedure for 24 hours and make an additional visit to the physician before receiving medical care," lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in a 2017 court document. "And the Legislature made no findings that this act (law) is necessary to ensure that women seeking abortions — alone among patients — are adequately informed. Nor did the Legislature make any findings that the mandatory delay and additional-trip requirements will in fact enhance a woman's ability to make this decision."

The state's motion in the waiting-period case came as the Republican-controlled Legislature moves forward with a proposed 15-week abortion limit.

The proposal, which is scheduled to be considered Tuesday on the House floor, is similar to a Mississippi law that is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court case is closely watched, as it could lead to overturning or scaling back the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision.

Republican lawmakers and then-Gov. Rick Scott approved the waiting-period law in 2015 and immediately faced the legal challenge.

The Florida Supreme Court in 2017 approved a circuit judge's decision to issue a temporary injunction against the law, pointing to privacy rights that have long been key in Florida abortion cases.

A circuit judge later granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, but that decision was overturned in 2019 by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, sending the dispute back to circuit court.

While the Supreme Court in 2017 backed the injunction in a 4-2 decision, the court has become far more conservative during the past few years.

Justice Jorge Labarga is the only member of the majority in the 2017 ruling who remains on the court. Meanwhile, current Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston dissented in 2017 and continue to serve on the court.

(©2022 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)

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