TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — While the ACLU and Planned Parenthood were already contesting Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, House Bill 5, a new lawsuit over the recently signed law brings its battle on religious freedom grounds. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on April 14. It takes effect July 1.
A Complaint filed in a 2nd Circuit court by L’Dor Va-Dor, a Jewish congregation in Palm Beach County, is suing on grounds that the state’s new abortion ban violates Florida’s Constitution, and privacy protections, as well as infringing on the religious expressions of Floridians.
The case comes as the Supreme Court of the United States is set to overturn Roe v. Wade while deciding a case over abortion rights in the state of Mississippi. A draft of the opinion was leaked in early May.
“In violation of the will of the people, all case precedent, and Florida’s history of protecting the right to abortion as inviolate and fundamental, the Florida legislature recently passed House Bill 5, a law that criminalizes pre-viability abortions in direct violation of Floridians’ fundamental privacy rights guaranteed by the Florida Constitution,” the lawsuit says.
More directly related to the congregation’s ability to practice its faith, the lawsuit filed says “HB 5 also violates Article 1, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution which provides ‘There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free expression thereof,'” saying that Floridians may not be penalized over their religious practices, as enshrined in the state’s Constitution.
Specifically, the lawsuit cites Jewish law and belief for their case.
“Plaintiff and its members, congregants and supporters rely on Jewish law and understanding regarding abortion, which differs from the requirements of the Act, and thus, if the members, congregants and supporters of Plaintiff practice their religion regarding decisions related to abortion, they will be penalized by the state in violation of the Constitution,” the suit reads.
Additionally, the lawsuit describes HB 5 as “instigated across the nation by those who espouse the view that human life begins at conception, and thus equates abortion with murder” which it says is “contrary to the views of Plaintiff, its members, congregants, and supporters as well as many other Floridians.”
“Plaintiff, its members, congregants, and supporters and their families do not require others to impose their religious views about when life begins and the sanctity of life in order to supplant and replace by judicial fiat and the power of the State, the Jewish view of when life begins and the sanctity of life,” the lawsuit says.
Jewish law is specific in how it views abortion, and prioritizes the life of the mother over the life of the fetus.
In writings cited by the U.S. Supreme Court when originally deciding Roe v. Wade, the case at the center of America’s abortion protections for the past 50 years, SCOTUS took some direction from Jewish rabbinical and legal scholars when drafting their opinion.
“It should be sufficient to note briefly the wide divergence of thinking on this most sensitive and difficult question. There has always been strong support for the view that life does not begin until live’ birth,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the majority opinion in 1973.
However, like all faiths and families, belief and opinion is not fully the same among Jewish scholars on political issues, and abortion is no exception, which the Justices noted, even in 1973.
“This was the belief of the Stoics. It appears to be the predominant, though not the unanimous, attitude of the Jewish faith,” Blackmun continued.
A 1988, post-Roe v. Wade publication analyzing Jewish law, the Halachah, by Larry V. Amsel states that Jewish religious law “allows abortion only in cases of serious medical danger to the mother.” However, even that analysis admits the diversity of the Jewish community provides for division on the issue, politically.
The Florida 15-week abortion ban criminalizes providing abortion after 15 weeks, following the “first day of a woman’s last menstrual period,” according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs say that the timing outlined in HB 5 is “early in the second trimester and months prior to both fetal viability and the current limit under Florida law,” saying the timing is “arbitrary and capricious” and not supported by rational basis or a compelling state interest.
The plaintiffs also allege that by “failing to include all penalties of violation of the Act, the Act is unconstitutionally vague,” leaving Floridians “in the dark” about who will be punished, and what the penalties may be for Floridians who seek or receive abortions and “exercise their religious beliefs” in doing so. By failing to provide specificity, the lawsuit alleges there will be a “great chilling effect upon the free exercise of religion in Florida.”
Contesting HB 5’s legality under the state constitution, the plaintiffs seek “a declaratory judgment and a temporary and permanent injunction” to prevent their rights being violated, and affecting the ability of Floridians to make private, “deeply personal” decisions on their families and healthcare without the interference of the state government.
“If injunctive relief is not granted,” L’Dor Va-Dor argues that HB 5 “will cause Plaintiff, its members, congregants, supporters and their families irreparable harm,” with no “adequate” legal remedy, and “infringe upon the religious freedom and privacy rights” of the plaintiffs and “all other women in Florida and their families.” They said the state had failed to show a compelling state interest in its support of HB 5, and must do so, as well as provide a rationale for the vague language included regarding penalties that Floridians may become subject to.