Florida court upholds abortion ban

DeSantis-aligned justices open door for stricter restrictions

FILE - Protesters hold signs as Barbara DeVane, of the Tallahassee National Organization for Women, speaks outside the Florida Historic Capitol, June 24, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla., during a rally protesting the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade. The Florida Supreme Court issued rulings Monday, April 1, 2024, allowing the state's voters to decide whether to protect abortion rights and legalize recreational use of marijuana, rejecting the state attorney general's arguments that the measures should be kept off the November ballot. (Chasity Maynard/Tallahassee Democrat via AP, File)
FILE - Protesters hold signs as Barbara DeVane, of the Tallahassee National Organization for Women, speaks outside the Florida Historic Capitol, June 24, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla., during a rally protesting the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade. The Florida Supreme Court issued rulings Monday, April 1, 2024, allowing the state's voters to decide whether to protect abortion rights and legalize recreational use of marijuana, rejecting the state attorney general's arguments that the measures should be kept off the November ballot. (Chasity Maynard/Tallahassee Democrat via AP, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for the state to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, while also giving voters a chance to remove restrictions in November.

The court that was reshaped by former presidential candidate and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ruled 6-1 to uphold the state's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, meaning a ban on six weeks could soon take effect. But under a separate 4-3 ruling, the court allowed a ballot measure to go to voters that would enshrine abortion rights in Florida's constitution.

The 15-week ban, signed by DeSantis in 2022, has been enforced while it was challenged in court. The six-week ban, passed by the Legislature last year, was written so that it would not take effect until a month after the 2022 law was upheld.

Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and others challenged the law in court. They argued that the Florida Constitution's unique privacy clause for more than 40 years has explicitly protected the right to abortion in the state and should remain in force.

Lawyers for the state, however, said when the privacy clause was adopted by voter referendum in 1980, few people understood that it would cover abortion. They told the justices that the clause was mainly meant to cover "informational privacy" such as personal records and not abortion.

The Florida justices agreed, saying that when voters approved the privacy clause, they didn't know it would affect abortion laws.

"The debate -- as framed to the public -- overwhelmingly associated the privacy clause's terms with concerns related to government surveillance and disclosure of private information to the public," the court wrote. "Pro-life and pro-choice groups did not join in the fray. These groups are not politically bashful -- not now, and not in 1980."

DeSantis, who took office in 2019, appointed five of the court's seven justices.

Abortion rights proponents were disheartened by the ruling.

"This decision demonstrates how precarious our personal freedoms are in this state," Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said. "It's so extreme you're going to see Floridians having to go out of state, probably to Virginia, to get care."

The Florida Access Network plans to switch its strategy from finding abortion care for women in Florida to paying for their travel expenses to go out of state, said Stephanie Loraine Pineiro, the advocacy group's executive director.

The Florida Supreme Court also issued rulings Monday allowing the state's voters to decide whether to protect abortion rights and legalize recreational use of marijuana, rejecting the state attorney general's arguments that the measures should be kept off the November ballot.

The proposed amendment would protect the right to an abortion after the state in back-to-back years passed tougher restrictions currently being challenged in court. Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody argued that the proposed amendment is deceptive and that voters won't realize just how far it will expand access to the procedure.

The proposed amendment says "no law shall prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient's health, as determined by the patient's health care provider." It provides for one exception that is already in the state constitution: Parents must be notified before their minor children can get an abortion.

Proponents of the measure argued that the language of the ballot summary and the proposed amendment are concise and that Moody was playing politics instead of letting voters decide the issue.

Voters will also decide whether to allow companies that grow and sell medical marijuana to sell it to adults over 21 for any reason. The ballot measure also would make possession of marijuana for personal use legal.

Moody also argued that this proposal is deceptive, in part, because federal law still doesn't allow the use of marijuana for recreational or medical use of marijuana. She argued that the court previously erred when it approved the language for the medical marijuana ballot initiative voters passed in 2016.

The court's review of the ballot language was limited to whether voters could understand it and that it contained a single issue, not on the merits of the proposal itself. The measures need 60% approval from voters to pass.

Information for this article was contributed by Brendan Farrington, Geoff Mulvihill, Terry Spencer, Stephany Matat, Mike Schneider, Curt Anderson, David Fischer and staff writers of The Associated Press.

  photo  FILE - Participants wave signs as they walk back to Orlando City Hall during the March for Abortion Access, Oct. 2, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. The Florida Supreme Court on Monday, April 1, 2024, upheld the state's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which means a subsequently passed six-week ban can soon take effect. (Chasity Maynard/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)
 
 

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