On Thursday, an appeals court upheld a circuit judge’s decision to temporarily suspend Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban and gave a hint that it may do the same in the future. A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 that abortion clinics and a doctor who was challenging the law had not demonstrated that the nearly complete ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy would cause them “irreparable harm.”
The appeals court concluded that the clinics and the physician were not entitled to a preliminary injunction to overturn the law. On July 5, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ordered a temporary injunction; however, when the state appealed, the injunction was suspended.
A interim injunction “cannot be given absent a showing of irreparable harm,” noted Judge Brad Thomas in a decision that Judge Stephanie Ray also concurred in. Any financial loss resulting from the application of the law cannot serve as a legal foundation for a determination of irreparable harm with regard to the appellants (the abortion clinics and physicians) themselves. The parties agree that the majority of abortions that are provided will not be affected by the law’s implementation.
Technically, the decision dealt with a request to lift a stay on Cooper’s temporary injunction made by the abortion facilities and the doctor. The 15-week limit would not have been imposed while the legal dispute is ongoing if the stay had been vacated. The appeals court turned down the request but also made it clear that it would ultimately overturn the preliminary injunction. The temporary injunction on appeal and the stay go hand in hand, so naturally we consider them together, the judge stated in an earlier decision in an unconnected matter, according to Thomas.
Judge Susan Kelsey, however, disagreed, citing earlier abortion cases as support. According to Kelsey, the Florida Supreme Court “has decided that even’minimal’ loss of the fundamental right to privacy is per se irreparable injury in the unique context of abortion regulation.” We must thus assume irreparable harm and allow the request to end the stay, she continued.
In the midst of a heated national discussion over abortion rights, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed the 15-week restriction this year. On June 1, the clinics and the doctor filed the complaint, claiming that the 15-week limit contravened a privacy guarantee in the Florida Constitution that has traditionally been a crucial component of defending the state’s legalised abortion practises.
Cooper acknowledged that the statute infringed on the privacy provision when he issued the temporary injunction. However, the state filed an appeal right away, which resulted in an automatic stay of the temporary injunction and kept the statute in place. In response, the plaintiffs submitted an urgent application to lift the stay. “Florida patients in desperate need of post-15-week abortion services are being turned away every day that HB 5 (the law) remains in effect, and are being forced to try to seek abortions out of state, if they are able to do so; to try abortions outside the medical system; or to continue pregnancies against their will,” the emergency motion stated.
However, the office of Attorney General Ashley Moody opposed lifting the stay, claiming in part in a court document that the plaintiffs had not “established a likelihood of success on the merits” of their claims. The petition also referred to the Florida Supreme Court’s “preference for retaining legislative enactments awaiting appeal even when a trial court has declared them unlawful.” The state countered by arguing that the interim injunction case should be expedited to the Supreme Court, essentially avoiding the appeals court in Tallahassee. Thursday’s majority view rejected such proposition.