NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged a Florida law that requires any person or organization that advises a woman seeking an abortion to provide her with state-mandated information — and, in the case of a minor, to notify her parents.
People and groups affected by the law would be required to register as an “abortion referral or counseling agency” with Florida’s agency for health care administration and face criminal penalties for failure to comply.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of three ministers, three rabbis, the Women’s Emergency Network, Emergency Medical Assistance, Inc., the Palm Beach County chapter of the National Organization for Women, and the Miami Workers Center.
“A woman considering an abortion may consult with any number of people in making her decision. This ill-conceived law criminalizes the intimate conversations a woman has with her support network,” said Nancy Abudu, legal director of the ACLU of Florida. “The law not only forces people to provide information they may not be qualified to provide, it clearly intends to bully and intimidate women’s trusted advisers with a vague and complicated bureaucratic process under the threat of criminal charges.”
The lawsuit argues that the law violates the First Amendment by compelling speech — by putting restrictions on the content and viewpoint that must be shared — and limiting speech about abortion care only to those who have already registered with the state’s health care administration agency.
“This law is classic viewpoint discrimination: it restricts speakers only when they assist a woman seeking abortion care with no such restrictions on speakers who assist a woman intending to carry a pregnancy to term,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “By targeting people and organizations that provide compassionate support, this law can only serve to isolate a woman seeking help. This isolation is particularly threatening for minors — especially minors experiencing abuse — who, under this law, cannot not seek advice or help without triggering a parental notification requirement with no exceptions.”
Their complaint points to the vague terms by which individuals and organizations will have to register as an “abortion referral or counseling agency,” which could make them targets for harassment and threats of violence. The law applies to any of the innumerable types of people and groups a woman might consult in deciding to seek an abortion, including domestic violence shelters, sexual assault survivor centers, charitable organizations, attorneys, clergy, women’s advocacy organizations, and community organizations.
“The state cannot tell citizens what they can and cannot say or require that they register with the state before they can speak, especially about something as personal and private as reproductive choice,” said James K. Green, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The registration requirement was part of the sweeping legislation H.B. 1411 — signed by Gov. Rick Scott in May 2016 — which sought to block abortion care in Florida. A federal court has blocked other provisions of H.B. 1411, including provisions that would have taken away funding for contraceptive care from entities that also provide abortions and impose onerous restrictions on abortion providers.
The challenge comes only weeks after the ACLU joined Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights to challenge abortion restrictions in Missouri, Alaska, and North Carolina.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The plaintiffs are represented by Wesley Powell and Mary Eaton of Willkie, Farr & Gallagher; James K. Green of James K. Green, P.A; Nancy Abudu of the ACLU of Florida; and Talcott Camp and Andrew Beck of the ACLU.
The complaint can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/fulwider-v-senior-complaint
More about this case can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/fulwider-v-senior
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