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Judge rules to temporarily block Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, but ban will still become law for now

Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper's verbal opinion will not be binding until he signs the written order possibly not until early next week.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Florida judge temporarily blocked the 15-week abortion ban on Thursday afternoon, ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. However, the verbal opinion won't be binding, making the injunction go into effect, until he signs the written order. 

That may not be until early next week, Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said.

Florida HB 5, the state law that would ban abortion after 15-weeks, is set to take effect on July 1. Judge Cooper said he finds HB 5 "unconstitutional," leading to his decision to issue the temporary injunction.

"It violates the privacy provision of the Florida constitution," he said while reading his opinion. 

Since the opinion isn't binding yet, the 15-week abortion ban will be law in Florida until Cooper signs the written order. 

In response to Judge Cooper's temporary injunction, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' office issued the following statement: 

"While we are disappointed with today’s ruling, we know that the pro-life HB 5 will ultimately withstand all legal challenges. The Florida Supreme Court previously misinterpreted Florida’s right to privacy as including a right to an abortion, and we reject this interpretation. The Florida Constitution does not include–and has never included–a right to kill an innocent unborn child. We will appeal today’s ruling and ask the Florida Supreme Court to reverse its existing precedent regarding Florida’s right to privacy. The struggle for life is not over."

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office also said the state will appeal the judge's ruling, which would automatically put a hold on the judge's ruling blocking the ban. 

The plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood and other clinics, like A Woman's Choice of Jacksonville, then plan to ask the courts to get rid of that hold. This could potentially create a back and forth in the courts that could last a while.

"The potential of this is so confusing for not just people, normal people in general, but women who are going through something like this may not each day know if they can have an abortion," Christina Noce, Communications Director for Planned Parenthood of Southeast and North Florida, said.

"The state does have the ability to appeal, which would then put the ban back into effect. And so we're expecting a little bit of a flip-flop, and so your constitutional right, which in Florida is your constitutional right to have an abortion, could be there one day and not be there the next ... that is just so unfair for patients and for doctors who are trying to provide this care," she said.

Noce said Planned Parenthood has a patient navigator program that helps provide funding to help out of state patients cover the cost of transportation and a hotel. She also said abortionfinder.org helps patients find the closest clinics they can legally get abortions at. 

Planned Parenthood tweeted the following statement in response to the ruling: 

Leon County Judge Cooper just ruled that Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, is unconstitutional & he will be issuing a temporary injunction. This is not the end — we likely have a long fight ahead of us.

Kelly Flynn, CEO of A Woman's Choice of Jacksonville, said they're helping women travel to Charlotte starting Friday because the 15-week ban will be in place.

"It has been very confusing for a lot of patients, you know, and of course, sad and stressful for a lot of the staff just trying to wrap their head around what's really happened, and how the Supreme Court ruled the way that they did," Flynn said. "So, additionally, you know, it's scary, and our patients are calling in. They're still asking questions," Flynn said.

"We're continuing to say, 'yes, it is still legal right now in the state of Florida. And we are going to provide care for you the best we know how and best to our ability. Additionally, that we are still open, and we'll help get you where you need to get whether it's Florida or North Carolina,'" she said. 

She said the back and forth at the state level complicates things even further. 

"It's just kind of a hurry-up and wait thing right now," Flynn said.

Flynn and Noce said while Thursday was a win, they're not done fighting. 

Andrew Shrivell, founder of Florida Voice for the Unborn, said the state legislature needs to hold a special legislative session to ban abortion completely.

"If a complete abortion ban is passed, even if it doesn't go into full effect right away, it will least be on the books and the legislative debate will have been finished," he said.

Shrivell attended the hearing all week. 

"It was very frustrating because the judge almost acted like a plaintiff in this case. So, I don't think he was very fair," he said. 

Shirvell issued the following statement on behalf of his group.

"Florida Voice for the Unborn is thoroughly disgusted with Leon County Circuit Court Judge John C. Cooper’s decision today to issue an ‘emergency’ temporary injunction enjoining Florida’s new law prohibiting abortions past 15-weeks’ gestation from taking effect. 

I attended both this past Monday’s full-day hearing as well as today’s concluding oral arguments on the Florida abortion industry’s motion to stop our state’s new lifesaving law. As such, I personally observed the demeanor of Judge Cooper, who was overwhelmingly biased in favor of the pro-abortion plaintiffs. Judge Cooper condescendingly dressed down the state’s legal team on several occasions, went on diatribes, and bizarrely claimed that he could not hear what the state’s first expert witness was saying even though he was sitting right next to her! In fact, the judge made such an issue about allegedly not being able to hear the state’s first expert witness that he abruptly left the bench and took a 15-minute recess at Monday’s hearing. By contrast, Judge Cooper bent over backwards to accommodate the pro-abortion plaintiffs’ high-priced attorneys from New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. 

It was obvious that the ‘fix’ was in from the very beginning and that Judge Cooper was extremely willing to play the part of a rubber stamp during these farcical proceedings. I remain confident that Judge Cooper’s ruling today will be overturned on appeal sooner rather than later, given that the text of the Florida Constitution – including the privacy amendment that was added in 1980 – does not mention anything about abortion at all. In the meantime, however, Judge Cooper’s ruling today will lead to the unjust deaths of countless preborn babies in Florida. The blood of these innocent children is squarely on the hands of Judge Cooper.”

The case was heard just days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended federal protections for abortion. Gov. DeSantis publicly declared his intentions to further restrict abortion after the decision came down from the Supreme Court. 

First Coast News reached out to Moody's office and the local State Attorney's Office asking how they plan to enforce the ban as it plays out in the courts. FCN is waiting to hear back. 

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