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Judge temporarily blocks defunding, medical record inspection provisions in Fla. antiabortion-rights omnibus law

A federal judge on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction blocking two parts of a Florida antiabortion-rights law (HB 1411) that is scheduled to take effect July 1, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

According to the AP/Bee, the injunction will remain in place until a final ruling is issued on the contested provisions (Fineout, AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/30).

Background on the law

Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed the measure into law in March. The law 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.

Lawsuit details

In June, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to overturn and halt enforcement of the law's defunding provision, the new clinic inspection regulations and the change to pregnancy trimester dates. In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood said state lawmakers passed the law to "punish, harass, and stigmatize the state's abortion providers for their and their patients' exercise of constitutional rights" (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/6).

The organization argued that the defunding provision would keep clinics from receiving about $500,000 to provide health care screenings and other services (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/30).

Further, Planned Parenthood contended that a provision of the law requiring the state to inspect at least half of the patient records at abortion clinics violates the clinics' equal protection rights. According to the lawsuit, the patient records requirement also violates the 14th Amendment's due process clause, as well as the state constitution's right to privacy. In addition, Planned Parenthood said the law's redefined gestation dates are unconstitutionally vague (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/6).

Latest developments

In a 25-page order, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle blocked the law's defunding and file inspection provisions. He left in place the law's redefinition of gestation and pregnancy trimester dates.

He wrote, "The defunding provision has nothing to do with the state and local spending programs at issue, which address things like testing for sexually transmitted [infections]" (Rosica, Florida Politics, 6/30). According to Hinkle, the provision is "based not on any objection to how the funds are being spent ... but solely because the recipients of the funds choose to provide abortions separate and apart from any public funding."

He added, "The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly -- by withholding otherwise-available public funds -- conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/30).

In addition, Hinkle likened the law's patient-records requirement to a warrantless search. He noted that while such searches are permitted "when the government makes available an opportunity for pre-enforcement review of the official's demand to see records," in this case, "the state apparently has not made available an opportunity for pre-enforcement review." Hinkle wrote, "This, standing alone, renders the state's system facially unconstitutional" (Florida Politics, 6/30).

Hinkle's preliminary injunction does not apply to the law's provision redefining gestation dates and pregnancy trimesters (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/30).

Planned Parenthood praises decision

Barbara Zdravecky, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, praised Hinkle's decision, saying, "With today's ruling Planned Parenthood is more committed than ever to both serving our patients and fighting back against politicians who are bent on attacking access to women's health" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/30).