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Florida Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in case determining abortion access

'They probably don't even know that their rights to bodily autonomy are actually on the line,' Laura Goodhue says
Posted at 6:56 PM, Sep 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-07 18:56:21-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's new abortion restrictions go before the state's highest court Friday morning.

Oral arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. in the Florida Supreme Court. The decision there could return Florida to 24 weeks — or trim it down to six.

The case, originally brought by a group of women's health clinics, challenges the current 15-week ban and argues privacy protections in the state constitution cover abortion access to up to 24 weeks.

If justices agree, Florida reverts to 24. But if they find protections don't exist, a trigger law the GOP majority approved this year, banning abortion at six weeks with few exceptions, takes effect 30 days after the court hands down its ruling.

Supporters of the new ban, like John Stemberger, head of the Florida Family Policy Council, think the state's privacy law is on their side. Voters approved the protections in the 1980s and Stemberger, an attorney himself, suggested it had nothing to do with abortion.

"We're very hopeful that the Florida Supreme Court will realize that there's — it really doesn't mention abortion," he said. "It's not in the record anywhere, and the people who adopted it were thinking about informational privacy. Watergate, wiretapping, fax machines, wire transfers."

The plaintiffs couldn't disagree more and cite previous court precedents to back their claims. Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, told us Thursday the stakes were as high as the anxiety.

"It's tough, you know?" she said. "I'm actually sitting in one of our health centers right now, and the patients coming in today, they probably don't even know that their rights to bodily autonomy are actually on the line."

Fueling fears for plaintiffs is the high court's conservative panel of judges. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed five of the seven and has touted signing the state's six-week ban in his campaign for president.

"You got to do what is right," DeSantis said when asked about the ban during last month's GOP primary debate. "I believe in a culture of life."

Even if the governor and Republicans get what they want from the courts, political experts warn there may be a price to pay with voters in 2024.

"It will be the younger, more non-party affiliated voters that can really have a big influence on this issue," Dr. Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida professor emerita, said. "Not to mention suburban women who have long been a swing vote, particularly in Florida."

Voters also may get a chance to weigh in directly next year.

A ballot measure to return Florida to 24 weeks continues to gain strength. As of Wednesday, organizers had enough signatures to trigger a language review and said they'd secured more than half of the nearly 900,000 names needed to reach voting booths.

Following Friday's oral arguments, justices will take whatever time they deem necessary to deliberate. Their final decision could take weeks or months to make.