TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — The Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Friday in a case challenging the state’s 15-week abortion ban.
Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida v. Florida is blocking a more restrictive abortion law from being implemented while it is tied up in the courts.
The six-week abortion ban was supposed to take effect on June 1 after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law this April. But first, the state’s top court must decide if the “Fetal Protection Act,” which passed in 2022, violates the right to privacy enshrined in the Florida Constitution.
In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood and the plaintiffs argue that the privacy clause, enacted by voters in 1980, shields an individual’s “private life” from “government intrusion,” including the right to abortion. It was cited by justices while blocking an abortion law several years later and has since become the legal precedent.
In briefs filed by the state and pro-life organizations, the respondents argue a more narrow view of the privacy clause, claiming that it only protects a person’s information from being accessed or viewed by the government. They also claim that “the questions raised by abortion are not judicial questions,” and that it should be left to the reliably conservative legislative branch to decide.
Pro-choice advocates fear the Florida Supreme Court will be favorable towards anti-abortion arguments, in part, due to DeSantis appointing five of the seven members, including those with strong ties to the pro-life movement and legislative advocacy.
Anti-abortion advocacy group Florida Family Action supported DeSantis’ appointment of Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz, stating in a news release that he is “expected to complete the transformation of Florida’s highest court into a judicial body with the most reliably consistent and conservative judicial philosophy in the country.”
As noted by the Washington Post in April, Muñiz had a different opinion of abortion while acting as a private attorney in 2004. In a memo, he stated the privacy clause was “clearly” intended to “give the abortion right a textual foundation in our state constitution.”
Charles Canady, appointed by then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, penned a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives curbing so-called “partial birth abortions” in 1995. His wife, Florida Rep. Jennifer Canady of Lakeland, is a co-sponsor of the state’s six-week abortion ban.
Muñiz and the other DeSantis appointees – John Couriel, Renatha Francis, Jamie Grosshans and Meredith Sasso – are all members of the conservative Federalist Society legal organization. Crist’s appointees, Canady and Jorge Labarga, have spoken at events hosted by the Federalist Society.
Sasso, the most recent appointee to Florida’s top court, also has ties to the “private and confidential” Teneo Network, a little-known group headed by one of the men behind the push for a conservative supermajority in the Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Grosshans was accused of leaving some key information out of her application to Florida’s Supreme Court, namely her affiliation with the religious, conservative Alliance Defending Freedom group.
Labarga sided with liberal justices in blocking a 2015 Florida law that would have required patients to wait 24 hours before having an abortion, but the makeup of the court has since taken a hard shift to the right. He was the only dissenting vote in a ruling that denied requests to halt the 15-week abortion ban in January.
Despite facing an uphill legal battle, the plaintiffs in the abortion case believe their position is in line with the state constitution and the opinion of most Florida residents. They issued the following statement ahead of Friday’s oral arguments:
“We are in court today to protect Floridians’ right to make their own decisions about their pregnancies, their bodies, and their futures. The attempt by Gov. DeSantis and his allies to overturn established law, in defiance of the Florida Constitution, the will of voters, and the rule of law, is deeply misguided and dangerous. We hope the Florida Supreme Court will recognize that politicians’ thinly veiled attempt to uproot the rule of law would needlessly put people’s health and lives at risk and decide to preserve the long-established right to abortion Floridians have relied on for decades.”ACLU, ACLU of Florida, Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the law firm Jenner & Block LLP
The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments at 9 a.m. on Friday. Court documents filed July 10 state each side is allowed up to 30 minutes to lay out their case.
The six-week abortion ban will only take effect if the Florida Supreme Court upholds the 15-week ban. If justices decide the privacy clause does not apply to abortion, the six-week ban would go into effect 30 days after that ruling.