Federal judge asked to block part of Florida abortion law

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A sweeping abortion law passed by Florida legislators this year — parts of which have already been struck down by the courts — is being challenged yet again.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a lawsuit late Monday on behalf of several ministers, rabbis and organizations that provide abortion counseling services to women.

The lawsuit filed in a federal court in Tallahassee contends that the law violates constitutional rights by requiring groups to register with the state and pay a fee if they advise or help women seek abortions. The lawsuit also challenges a provision already in state law that requires groups to tell women about alternatives to abortion.

“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 Greene, one of the attorneys working on the case.

Legislators passed the sweeping abortion measure during their 2016 session and most of the debate centered on other parts of the law, including one that would have affected Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood wound up suing over the law, which included a provision that prevented any state or local funds from going to an organization for other types of services if that organization also provided abortions. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle this summer blocked that portion of the law, as well as another one that increased inspection requirements for clinics.

The administration of Gov. Rick Scott decided to forgo any additional legal action and did not appeal Hinkle’s ruling.

The new lawsuit was filed against Attorney General Pam Bondi and a top official in the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration who reports to Scott.

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor’s office had not seen the lawsuit yet but stressed that Scott is “clear in his support of legislation which protects the sanctity of life and the life of an unborn child.”

In a statement, Bondi said she had no enforcement authority under the abortion law and should not have been sued.

The court action this week was just a new chapter in a long-running battle over abortion in the Sunshine State. Since the GOP assumed control of the Florida Legislature two decades ago, legislators have enacted a series of bills, only to see many of them overturned in the courts. The Florida Supreme Court in April suspended a 24-hour waiting period for abortions while it decides whether that law is constitutional.

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