Federal judge blocks Florida law requiring anyone offering abortion advice to register with state

The decision in Florida is one of several wins for reproductive rights activists in recent weeks.

In this Sept. 9, 2015, file photo, Planned Parenthood supporters rally for women's access to reproductive health care on "National Pink Out Day'' at Los Angeles City Hall. CREDIT: AP Photo/Nick Ut, File
In this Sept. 9, 2015, file photo, Planned Parenthood supporters rally for women's access to reproductive health care on "National Pink Out Day'' at Los Angeles City Hall. CREDIT: AP Photo/Nick Ut, File

A federal judge in Florida blocked a law on Friday that would have required anyone offering advice about abortions to register with the state and provide those seeking advice with a detailed explanation of the abortion procedure and alternatives.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year, would have required abortion “advisers” to pay a $200 fee and offer a “full and complete” definition of abortion and its benefits and drawbacks. What that definition needed to include was not made clear under the law.

“This case presents a challenge to a state law that (1) imposes a content- and viewpoint-based requirement to register and pay a fee to engage in speech protected by the First Amendment and (2) makes it a crime not to simultaneously engage in compelled speech that the law describes so vaguely that even the state’s Attorney General does not know what is required,” Judge Robert L. Hinkle explained upon granting the preliminary injunction Friday.

The decision is a win for the group that challenged the law, which included the American Civil Liberties Union, a minister, two rabbis, and the Palm Beach chapter of the National Organization for Women. Hinkle said he issued the injunction because the group challenging the law would likely succeed at trial.

The state argued that the group had not been harmed by the law, that the law wasn’t being enforced, and that there was no penalty for not registering.

Hinkle, when issuing the injunction, called provision “hopelessly vague.”

“A woman’s trusted advisors, whom she turns to for personal and private conversations when considering abortion, should be free to provide compassionate support without the threat of criminal charges,” Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “We are very pleased that the court has blocked these dangerous requirements from causing further harm.”

Hinkle’s injunction is the latest in a line of recent victories for reproductive rights and abortion activists at the state level.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Indiana blocked an anti-abortion law signed by Vice President Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana, that would have prohibited anyone from seeking an abortion specifically because the fetus may be disabled. Additionally, the law would have required aborted fetuses be buried or cremated and that abortion providers notify patients seeking abortions that doing do because the fetus may be disabled was illegal in the state.

Last week, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, also reversed course and announced he would sign into law a bill that will expand taxpayer subsidized abortions for those covered by Medicaid and state employee insurance.

Additionally, on the national level, Senate Republicans conceded last week that their latest attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, which would have defunded Planned Parenthood, did not have the votes and would not come to the floor.