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Abortion-rights groups sue state, say law violates free speech


OT_402078_KEEL_1_flgovAbortion-rights advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday sued the state over abortion restrictions the groups say would have a chilling effect on free speech.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tallahassee, asks a judge to throw out part of a law requiring agencies that refer women to abortion providers to register with and pay a fee to the state. It was passed this spring by the Legislature as part of a broader abortion measure and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

Because of how the law is structured, the ACLU and others argue, the law would require any private person who gives advice to a woman considering an abortion to register with the state. As well, they say, these people would fall under an existing state law requiring them to inform the parents of minors who decide to have an abortion.

This, the lawsuit argues, would violate free speech rights of private citizens under the First Amendment.

"A woman considering an abortion may consult with any number of people in making her decision,” said Nancy Abudu, legal director of the ACLU of Florida said in a written statement. “This ill-conceived law criminalizes the intimate conversations a woman has with her support network. 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 advisors with a vague and complicated bureaucratic process, under the threat of criminal charges."

The provisions go into effect Jan. 1.

Interim Secretary Justin Senior of the Agency for Health Care Administration and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi are named in the lawsuit. They were not immediately available for comment Tuesday morning.

Earlier this year, Planned Parenthood sued the state in federal court over other provisions in the same law. Judge Robert Hinkle, the same judge who will preside over this new lawsuit, blocked two provisions, which required the state to inspect patient records of as many as 35,000 women and would have eliminated all state spending at abortion clinics, including for non-abortion services like cancer screenings and HIV testing.

Photo: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times.