The lawsuits by the faith leaders were filed in state court against Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and state attorneys in counties across the state. The plaintiffs are demanding an immediate stay in the state’s enforcement of the law and for the law to be ruled unconstitutional.
“Since time immemorial, the question of when a potential fetus or fetus becomes a life and how to value maternal life during a pregnancy have been answered according to religious beliefs and creeds,” the lawsuits say. “HB 5 codifies one of the possible religious viewpoints on the question, and in its operation imposes severe burdens on other (beliefs, including those of the plaintiffs).”
Florida Politics quoted Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania political science professor who is working with the lawyers representing the plaintiffs:
“For decades, the Catholic bishops and the Evangelical right wing have claimed a singular religious high ground on the issue of abortion rights and tried to label anyone opposed to their views as ‘secularists.’ Yet there are millions of Americans whose deeply held religious beliefs, speech, and conduct are being substantially burdened by restrictive abortion bans like HB 5,” Hamilton said.
“Freedom of religion must protect the religious rights and beliefs of all citizens — not just those opposed to women’s right to choose.”
Florida’s new law, which took effect on July 1, bans terminating a pregnancy at 15 weeks. It was enacted before the June 24 Supreme Court decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling which guaranteed abortion rights nationwide. It includes no exceptions for victims of rape, incest, or human trafficking, but allows for abortions after 15 weeks if the mother’s life is at risk or if two doctors concur there is a fetal abnormality.
Following the Supreme Court ruling, Florida Republican lawmakers indicated they wanted to pass a near-total ban next year. That’s assuming DeSantis is reelected, and Republicans retain control of the state legislature. “We now have the will, and we have the votes in the House to pass legislation that will ban abortion in the great state of Florida for life,” Republican state Rep. Webster Barnaby told Politico in a May interview.
Florida Attorney General Moody issued a statement that her office would continue to defend the state statute as it has done in similar challenges to the abortion ban.
In June, Rabbi Barry Silver of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in Palm Beach County, challenged the law, citing protections for abortion under Jewish law if it is “necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman.” Daniel Uhlfelder, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, came on as co-counsel in the Boynton Beach-based synagogue’s lawsuit.
Rabbi Silver also announced an initiative known as Helping Emancipate Abortion Rights Today (HEART) to help other faith organizations and atheists push back against anti-abortion legislation throughout the country and restore abortion rights. Silver told NBC News that he opposed the “theocratic tyranny” of laws that clash with the Jewish belief that abortion is a basic right and life begins at birth, not conception.
"The initiative is designed to be able to allow any person of any belief system to challenge the anti-abortion laws on religious grounds," Silver said. "It's the height of chutzpah for people to tell the Jewish people what the Bible means and lecture the Jewish people on the sanctity of life."
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood, in another lawsuit, were able to get the law temporarily blocked by a state judge in July, but it was immediately reinstated after Moody filed an appeal. An appeals court refused to reinstate the injunction blocking the law from taking effect, and declined to fast-track the case for the Florida Supreme Court’s decision.
The ACLU of Florida argued that the abortion ban violates the state’s constitution. They cited a 1980 referendum in which Florida voters approved an amendment that guarantees a broad right of privacy, including the right to abortion. In 1980, Florida voters amended the state constitution to guarantee a broad right to privacy, which includes the right to abortion, the civil rights groups and abortion providers said in court papers. Florida voters reaffirmed the right to privacy again in 2012 by rejecting a ballot initiative that would have limited its scope and would have prohibited state courts from interpreting the Florida Constitution to provide stronger protection for abortion than the U.S. Constitution, the ACLU said.
If that argument is accepted by Florida’s Supreme Court, it would create a situation similar to that in Kansas. In Kansas, voters overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would have allowed the state legislature to restrict abortion rights.
In Florida, if the Supreme Court declares the abortion law unconstitutional on privacy grounds, the GOP would then have to hold a referendum to amend the state’s constitution. However, DeSantis could just defy any ruling since he considers himself above the law.
Warren, the Tampa-area state attorney suspended by DeSantis, has called the new state abortion law “unconstitutional on its face” because of privacy rights embedded in the Florida constitution, Politico reported.
Warren said his suspension “spits in the face” of voters who elected him twice to serve as Hillsborough County’s top prosecutor.
“Today’s political stunt is an illegal overreach that continues a dangerous pattern by Ron DeSantis of using his office to further his own political ambition,” he said in a statement. “The people have the right to elect their own leaders—not have them dictated by an aspiring presidential candidate.”
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What makes DeSantis’ action even more authoritarian is that the governor noted at his press conference Thursday that there is no state law banning gender-affirming treatments but he included that in the executive order suspending Warren because one day the legislature could ban them. “The Legislature of Florida may want to come in and do something on that, you are going to say presumptively you can’t do it?” DeSantis said.
DeSantis appointed Hillsborough County Judge Susan Lopez, a former county prosecutor whom the governor named to the bench last year to replace Warren.