Controversial Florida abortion ban blocked by court

By Bernd Debusmann Jr
BBC News, Washington

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Activists in MiamiImage source, Getty Images
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Pro-choice activists marching in Miami, Florida on 24 June

In a win for pro-choice activists, a Florida judge has blocked a state law banning abortions after 15 weeks.

The controversial law signed in April by Governor Ron DeSantis, was set to go into effect tomorrow, and made no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

The decision comes amid a flurry of state legal battles following the US Supreme Court decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion.

The state is expected to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

Florida is one of 11 US states that protect abortion access in their own state constitutions.

On Thursday, Leon County circuit judge John Cooper granted a temporary injunction to the law, which was legally challenged earlier in June by a coalition of pro-choice groups and clinics.

His ruling blocking the law, however, will not be binding until a written order is signed by him - which he said would not happen immediately. The law is set to go into effect at midnight.

Florida, the third most populous state in the US, had for over 40 years protected the right to abortion through a privacy amendment in the state's constitution. In his ruling, the judge said that the law would violate those privacy protections.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that the state's residents believe "that abortion is a fundamental right deserving of the strongest protection against government intrusion".

The lawsuit added that the 15-week law - which was modelled after the Mississippi law at the centre of the Supreme Court's recent decision - represented a "brazen attempt to override the will of the Florida people". After approving the bill in April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that the law was intended to "protect babies in the womb who have beating hearts, who can move, who can taste, who can see and who can feel pain".

The law had been widely applauded by anti-abortion groups in the state, including the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to data from the Centres of Disease Control, Florida has one of the highest rates of abortion in the US, behind only Illinois and New York. Polls also show that just over half of residents - 56% - believe abortions should be legal, making it the only state in the south-eastern US with a pro-choice majority. Governor DeSantis, however, has praised the recent Supreme Court ruling and vowed that Florida will work to restrict abortion access. "Florida will continue to defend its recently-enacted pro-life reforms against state court challenges, will work to expand pro-life protections and will stand for life by promoting adopting, foster care and child welfare," he said in a statement last week.

Judges in both Louisiana, Kentucky and Utah have already blocked trigger laws in those states.

Media caption,

US taking a 'backseat' on women's rights - health secretary