Federal judge blocks parts of abortion law hours before it goes into effect

In this 2009 photo, women are concealed from view by volunteers as they enter the Planned Parenthood of Collier County clinic in Naples.
In this 2009 photo, women are concealed from view by volunteers as they enter the Planned Parenthood of Collier County clinic in Naples. Associated Press

A federal judge late Thursday night blocked parts of Florida’s controversial abortion law within hours of its going into effect.

The injunction, written by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle, orders the state to maintain contracts for preventive care with abortion clinics including Planned Parenthood and prevents a new rule that would require 50 percent of all abortion clinic records to be reviewed by the state each year.

Hinkle’s ruling simply blocks these parts of the law from going into effect while the case is argued or unless a higher court overturns his decision. He wrote in the opinion that he expects the defunding and record inspection provisions will likely be ruled unconstitutional.

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office could not be immediately reached Thursday night for comment on whether it planned to appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Leaders with Planned Parenthood, which sued the state over the law, said in written statements that they were pleased with the decision.

“Today’s ruling should be hailed by all Floridians, but especially the thousands of men and women across the state who would have been cut off from access to reproductive health care including cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing and more had HB 1411 been allowed to stand,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

This is not an entirely unexpected outcome.

In court Wednesday, Hinkle raised concerns about both of the provisions he blocked.

Under the law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring, no state money can be used for non-abortion services like cancer screenings, HIV tests or education programs at abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood said it stands to lose $500,000 in state money as a result.

Hinkle’s ruling says that portion of the law essentially discourages clinics from performing abortions, which he said is unconstitutional.

“You can’t defund based on exercising a constitutional right,” he said Wednesday.

It’s unclear what effect there might be on state healthcare contracts. But Hinkle instructed the state not to cancel any alternate contracts it has struck and told it not to cancel those held by abortion clinics.

Hinkle further ruled the requirement that half of abortion records be checked by state regulators was high. He made clear that the state is justified in inspecting health records but said it hasn’t shown any justification for such a large volume.

Hinkle, who was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton in 1996, did not block new definitions of the trimesters of a pregnancy, which Planned Parenthood challenged, but which he said were resolved by the state’s lawyers in court.

Other parts of the law will still go into effect, including a requirement that abortion doctors obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or abortion clinics have transfer agreements in place. There are no known abortion clinics expected to shut down in the state as a result of this law.