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ACLU files lawsuit challenging biased counseling provisions in Fla. law

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida on Monday filed a new lawsuit against provisions in a wide-ranging state antiabortion-rights law (HB 1411), other parts of which have already been blocked by the courts, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Fineout, AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/13).

Details on law

The law, which was scheduled to take effect July 1, prohibits local health departments from allocating public funds to organizations affiliated with abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, for family planning services and other reproductive care for low-income residents. A ban on allocating public funds for abortion care is already in place.

The legislation also requires clinics that offer abortion care beyond the first trimester to have admitting privileges for their physicians at a local hospital and a transfer agreement with a hospital in the area. Clinics that offer abortion care only in the first trimester are required to have one of these two types of agreements.

Further, under the law, any facility that offers abortion-related counseling to a woman has to register with the state unless it counsels a woman to not have an abortion. The law also bans the sale, purchase or donation of fetal tissue resulting from abortion.

In addition, the law makes clinic inspection requirements more stringent and redefines gestation and pregnancy trimester dates, which affects when providers can offer abortion care.

Initial legal challenge

In June, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit, asking a federal judge to overturn and halt the law's defunding provision, the new clinic inspection regulations and the change to pregnancy trimester dates.

Later that month, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law's defunding and file inspection provisions. He left in place the law's redefinition of gestation and pregnancy trimester dates.

In late July, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) administration said it would not appeal the injunction amid the ongoing lawsuit (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/1).

Latest developments

In the new lawsuit, filed on behalf of multiple ministers, rabbis and organizations that provide counseling on abortion care, ACLU of Florida contends that the law's counseling provisions are unconstitutional. ACLU of Florida filed the lawsuit against state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) and an official in the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

ACLU of Florida in the lawsuit said the law is unconstitutional because it mandates that groups register with the state and pay a fee if they provide unbiased abortion counseling or aid a woman in obtaining an abortion.

In addition, the lawsuit challenges a provision in the law that forces such organizations to tell a woman about alternatives to abortion care. James Greene, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit, said, "The state cannot tell citizens what they can and cannot say, or require that they register with the state before they can speak, especially about something as personal and private as reproductive choice" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/13).