TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – A divided Florida Supreme Court temporarily blocked a state requirement that women wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion, cheering abortion rights supporters and drawing new complaints of judicial activism from the law's backers.
On a 5-2 vote, justices granted a stay of a lower court's order allowing the 2015 law to take effect. The Supreme Court said it would keep the stay in place while it decides whether to review the decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal.
Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, James E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince --- who form the court's more liberal majority --- backed the stay. Conservative Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston opposed it. Neither side explained its reasoning for the decision, which is not unusual on procedural matters.
But the ruling could indicate where the court is leaning on the matter. Courts generally issue stays when they believe there is a good chance the party asking for the move will ultimately win the case.
"We are pleased that the Florida Supreme Court has agreed with the trial court that Florida women should not suffer this burden while there is an ongoing challenge to this unconstitutional law," said Nancy Abudu, the legal director of the ACLU of Florida. "Forcing women seeking an abortion to make multiple visits that are medically unnecessary especially burdens poor and working women and is potentially dangerous."
The law, passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2015, requires women to wait 24 hours after meeting with their physician to talk about an abortion before undergoing the procedure. A women's health center, the ACLU and other abortion-rights supporters sued to overturn the waiting period.
A trial court blocked the law from taking effect, but the state appealed the decision to the district court, where a three-judge panel overturned the lower court's injunction in February. The groups challenging the law then appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
Friday's ruling added more fuel to a growing debate about the role of the Supreme Court in state government. The court remains one of the few remaining obstacles to conservative policy in a state where Republicans control the Legislature, the Cabinet and the governor's office.
In a statement responding to the ruling, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli laced into the court.
"In my opinion, this has been one of the most activist and overreaching State Supreme Courts in recent memory," said Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. " ... It appears that several of our Justices seem to believe it is their job to invalidate any action of the legislature, regardless of the law and constitution. I do hope that our next appointees will have a better understanding and appreciation for the true role of our Courts."
The News Service of Florida's Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.
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