Lawsuit: Florida Forced Waiting Period Law Unconstitutional, Offensive

A lawsuit filed in state court challenges a Florida law that requires patients visit their doctor 24 hours before they can have an abortion.

A lawsuit filed in state court challenges a Florida law that requires patients visit their doctor 24 hours before they can have an abortion. Shutterstock

Reproductive rights advocates filed a lawsuit Thursday to block an anti-choice Florida law that mandates patients wait at least 24 hours after visiting a clinic to have an abortion.

The complaint seeks to block HB 633, slated to take effect July 1. According to the complaint, HB 633 would amend current informed consent law to provide that a woman’s consent to an abortion is “voluntary and informed” only if she makes an additional, separate visit to her provider’s office at least 24 hours before returning for the procedure.

As alleged in the complaint, Florida law already requires physicians to provide patients with certain state-mandated information, including the nature and risks of the procedure and the risks of carrying a pregnancy to term, as well as the probable gestational age of the embryo or fetus, as verified by ultrasound.

HB 633 would require that information to be provided in person at least 24 hours before the abortion is performed.

“Women are fully capable of making thoughtful decisions about their lives, health, and families without interference from politicians seeking to advance an agenda,” Autumn Katz, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement following the filing of the lawsuit. “We are confident this demeaning measure will be struck down as a blatant violation of the state’s strong constitutional protections for women’s rights.”

Physicians and health-care facilities who violate HB 633 would be subject to disciplinary action, including license revocation, license non-renewal, and monetary fines.

“It’s clear that the sole purpose of this law is to make it more difficult for a woman who has decided to have an abortion to get one, and to punish and discriminate against those who do,” Renée Paradis, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said in a statement. “Furthermore, it’s flat-out offensive. A woman who is seeking an abortion has already carefully considered her decision. She doesn’t need politicians to create additional hurdles because they disagree with her.”

Attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and Richard Johnson of Tallahassee filed the lawsuit on behalf of Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center, a Gainesville reproductive health-care provider, and Medical Students for Choice, an organization dedicated to reproductive health care, including abortion.

Mandatory delays like the one imposed by HB 633 create a variety of burdens on a woman who needs safe and legal abortion care—from stigmatizing women and abortion providers, to requiring additional trips to the clinic, which means additional travel time, transportation costs, child care, and time off work.

Women of color, low-income women, rural women, and women in abusive relationships already face challenges when they seek health-care services, and waiting periods only increase these barriers. Mandatory waiting periods can lead a woman to delay the abortion to later in pregnancy, increasing the risks of the otherwise extremely safe procedure.

“Physicians have an obligation to both provide and advocate for the care their patients need when facing an unintended pregnancy and laws like Florida’s make that impossible,” said Lois Backus, executive director of Medical Students for Choice. “If allowed to go forward, this law will make it more difficult for women in Florida to obtain the quality healthcare they deserve for generations to come.”

Attorneys for the state of Florida have not yet responded to the complaint.