ACLU Challenges Florida Law Requiring State Registration for People Consulted by a Woman Contemplating Abortion
Criminal law targets those advising women who seek abortion care by requiring them to give the woman information mandated by the state and, as of January 1, requiring them to register with the state.
WASHINGTON - Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, representing three ministers, three rabbis, the Women’s Emergency Network (WEN), Emergency Medical Assistance, Inc. (EMA), Palm Beach County Capter of the National Organization for Women, and The Miami Workers Center have filed a lawsuit challenging a Florida law that requires people and organizations that advise a Floridawoman seeking an abortion to give her state-mandated information, to notify her parents if she is a minor, and to register with the state’s health care administration agency.
The registration requirement, passed in the 2016 legislative session and signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott, was part of a larger package (H.B. 1411) that sought to block abortion care in Florida. A federal court has already struck down other provisions of H.B. 1411.
“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. “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.”
Cooperating attorney James K. Greene stated, “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.”
The law makes no distinction among the innumerable types of people and groups a woman might consult as she considers seeking, or seeks, an abortion: charitable organizations, attorneys, clergy, women’s advocacy organizations, domestic violence shelters, sexual assault survivor centers, and community organizations among many others. Any of those persons or groups will be required to register with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) as an “abortion referral or counseling agency,” and must provide mandated – yet undefined – information, including medical information, with criminal penalties for failure to comply.
The lawsuit filed late yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida states that the law violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by compelling speech, putting content- and viewpoint-based restrictions on speech, and limiting speech about abortion care only to those who have already registered with the ACHA.
“This law is classic viewpoint discrimination: it restricts speakers only when they assist a woman seeking abortion care; it imposes no restrictions when speakers, including the plaintiffs in this case, assist a woman in carrying to term,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “By targeting people and organizations that provide compassionate counseling, advice and referrals, this law can only serve to isolate a woman seeking help. This isolation is particularly threatening for minors, who, under this law, cannot seek advice or help from their pastors or from service organization without triggering a parental notification requirement with no exceptions, even for minors who are victims of abuse.”
The plaintiffs in the case represent a cross-section of the kinds of individuals and organizations impacted by the provisions, including the registration requirement, which goes into effect on January 1. Not only are the plaintiffs worried about the free speech restrictions posed by the law, they are also worried that the vague terms by which they will have to register as an “abortion referral or counseling agency” could make them targets for harassment and threats of violence.
The lawsuit names AHCA Interim Secretary Justin Senior and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi as defendants in their official capacities. Plaintiffs will also file a motion seeking a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order barring the state from enforcing the law.
The plaintiffs are represented by: Wesley Powell and Mary Eaton of Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, New York, New York; James K. Green of James K. Green, P.A, West Palm Beach, Florida; Nancy Abudu of the ACLU of Florida; and Talcott Camp and Andrew Beck of the ACLU.
A copy of the complaint is available here: https://aclufl.org/resources/fulwilder-er-al-v-senior-complaint/
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.