Florida Supreme Court upholds state’s 15-week abortion ban


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for the state to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The court ruled 6-1 to uphold the state's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, meaning a ban on six weeks could soon take effect.

But under a separate 4-3 ruling, the court allowed a ballot measure to go to voters that would enshrine abortion rights in Florida's constitution.

The court’s decisions could be pivotal in the presidential race and congressional contests this year by driving abortion-rights supporters to the polls. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, voters in every state with an abortion-related ballot measure have favored the side backed by abortion rights supporters.

The 15-week ban, signed by DeSantis in 2022, has been enforced while it was challenged in court. The six-week ban, passed by the Legislature last year, was written so that it would not take effect until a month after the 2022 law was upheld.

Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and others who challenged the law argued that the Florida Constitution’s unique privacy clause for more than 40 years has explicitly protected a right to abortion in the state and should remain in force.

Lawyers for the state, however, said when the privacy clause was adopted by voter referendum in 1980, few people understood it would cover abortion. They told the justices the clause was mainly meant to cover “informational privacy” such as personal records and not abortion.

The Florida justices agreed, saying that when voters approved the privacy clause, they didn't know it would affect abortion laws.

“The debate — as framed to the public — overwhelmingly associated the Privacy Clause’s terms with concerns related to government surveillance and disclosure of private information to the public'” the court wrote. “Pro-life and pro-choice groups did not join in the fray. These groups are not politically bashful— not now, and not in 1980.”

Republican House Speaker Paul Renner said the six-week ban is a good fit for Florida and noted the law includes exceptions for cases involving rape, incest and fetal abnormalities, as well as to save a mother's life.

"It is a compromise that addresses where I think many Floridians are.”

The proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the November ballot says “no law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.” It provides for one exception that is already in the state constitution: Parents must be notified before their minor children can get an abortion.

Most Republican-controlled states have adopted bans or restrictions on abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision.

Fourteen states, including nearby Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, now have bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Georgia and South Carolina bar it once cardiac activity can be detected, which is generally considered to be around six weeks into pregnancy.