Trial set on 24-hour abortion waiting period law

Judge Angela Dempsey

NSF Staff Report

A Leon County circuit judge has scheduled a trial next year in a battle about the constitutionality of a 2015 state law that would require women to wait 24 hours before having abortions.

Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey issued an order last Wednesday that scheduled a 10-day trial to begin April 4. Dempsey held a hearing after two years of relatively little action in the case, according to an online docket.

Attorneys for a Gainesville abortion clinic and a group of medical students filed the lawsuit after the Legislature passed the 24-hour waiting period in 2015.

The Florida Supreme Court later issued a temporary injunction against the law, pointing to a right to privacy in the state Constitution. The case returned to circuit court, where then-Judge Terry Lewis in 2018 granted summary judgment — effectively deciding the case without a full trial — in favor of the plaintiffs. 

But a divided panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in 2019 overturned Lewis’ decision and sent the case back to circuit court for a trial. In the majority opinion, appeals court Judge Timothy Osterhaus wrote that the state’s evidence in the case “raises genuine issues of material fact” that need to be addressed.

“Rather than singling out and burdening abortion procedures with arbitrary requirements, the state’s evidence indicates that the 24-hour law brings abortion procedures in Florida into compliance with medical informed consent standards and tangibly improves health outcomes for women,” Osterhaus wrote in a 2-1 decision.

But then-appeals court Judge James Wolf dissented, writing that the state failed to demonstrate the need for the waiting period. 

“There is simply no evidence supporting the concept that information regarding abortion is more complex and needs more time to be understood versus other complex medical procedures. Absent such evidence, a restriction targeting a woman’s right to choose suggests that the act is based on nothing more than hostility toward the constitutionally protected abortion procedure,” Wolf wrote.