Supreme Court's Abortion Decision Could Nix Florida's New Law

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Florida's death penalty system.
The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Florida's death penalty system.

Last March, Gov. Rick Scott signed one of the most sweeping anti-abortion laws in Florida's recent history into law. It is scheduled to go into effect on Friday. One of the new law's key provisions is that it requires any doctor performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. 

Well, this morning the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-3 ruling on a similar law passed by Texas in 2013. It found many provisions of the law are unconstitutional, including a similar requirement mandating admitting privileges. 

So what does that mean in Florida? Well, it's very likely that lower courts will now throw Florida's new law out. There's a good reason the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt is being hailed as the Court's biggest abortion-related decision in two decades. 

Back in 2013, Texas passed HB 2. In addition to requiring doctors to have admitting privileges (which are often difficult for abortion providers to obtain), it also required all clinics performing abortions to spend money to upgrade their facilities to "ambulatory surgical centers." 

Pro-life lawmakers said that they were merely trying to make abortion safer. Pro-choice opponents claimed that not only was there no evidence such restrictions resulted in safer procedures but that the bill was really meant to curb the number of abortion providers in the state. 

Indeed, had Texas' law gone into full effect, there would only be seven to nine abortion providers left in the entire state of 27 million people. That meant that women in some areas of the state would have to drive hours to a clinic. Critics felt the laws put undue burden on women. 

The Supreme Court agreed with the critics. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is privately opposed to abortion, provided the swing vote that led to the majority decision. 

"Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access ... and each violates the Federal Constitution," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer of the requirements in the majority's decision. 

Scott, meanwhile, signed Florida's sweeping new anti-abortion law just weeks after the Supreme Court heard testimony in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. The portion of Florida's law requiring admitting privileges is quite similar to the Texas law. (Though Texas required the admitting hospital to be within 30 miles, whereas Florida's law mandates a vague "reasonable proximity.") 

Florida's law also includes other restrictions and requirements aimed at abortion providers (specifically Planned Parenthood). It's worth noting that Florida also considered a law this past session that would have required strict surgical center requirements on abortion clinics as well, but the bill ultimately didn't pass. 

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Florida had previously filed suit against the state seeking an injunction to stop the law from going into effect. It now seems likely that injunction could be granted. At the very least, the decision will likely set up a court battle testing the constitutionality of aspects of  Florida's law in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision. 


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