In Tallahassee, U.S. judge’s injunction of Texas abortion law goes mostly unnoted

The ruling is ‘not pertinent’ to FL, governor’s office says

By: - October 7, 2021 4:22 pm

Reproductive rights advocates gather in front of Florida’s historic Old Capitol building to protest a Texas-style abortion ban that was filed last month in Florida. Oct. 2, 2021. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

The ruling by a federal judge blocking Texas’ de-facto abortion ban caused few ripples Thursday in Florida’s political duckpond.

The governor’s office volunteered not a peep after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Texas on Wednesday ordered that state’s courts and clerks’ offices not to enforce the law. The ruling was “not pertinent to Florida,” Press Secretary Christina Pushaw said via email in response to a query from the Phoenix.

Gov. Ron DeSantis had been restrained in early September when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Senate Bill 8, the Texas fetal “heartbeat” bill, to take effect. He has suggested he was open to a similar law — and one is already pending for the Legislature’s 2022 session.

But DeSantis was not sold on the Texas’ enforcement mechanism: Bounty-hunter lawsuits by private citizens against people performing or abetting abortions.

Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, a candidate in the 2022 gubernatorial primary, mentioned the ruling in a fundraising pitch. “This is a win, but let’s be clear: Florida Republicans are moving forward with anti-choice legislation as we speak. We’re never going to stop fighting back,” she wrote.

But nothing from Congressman Charlie Crist, another candidate in that primary.

Democratic State Sen. Annette Taddeo, who’s signaled a possible primary bid, did post a tweet quoting approvingly from Pitman’s ruling on Wednesday: “From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution.”

Anna Eskamani, a Democratic state House member from Orange County, issued a written statement.

“We knew all along that Texas’s law to ban abortion — like all laws that attempt to ban abortion — is unconstitutional and a gross invasion of our personal medical decisions. Senate Bill 8 never should have become law and it never should have been implemented,” she said.

“Though this injunction will likely be overturned by the 5th Circuit and would then reach the Supreme Court of the United States, it is still an important legal victory that reminds politicians here in Florida to not mimic states like Texas or Mississippi in passing extreme legislation that attacks our reproductive health and rights.”

On Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered around the state to protest the erosion of abortion rights. The relative calm on Thursday may reflect the excellent chances that the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit, perhaps the most right-wing intermediate federal appellate court in the country, could very well overrule Pitman.

The U.S. Supreme Court, now dominated by activist conservatives, will hear oral arguments on Dec. 1 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, stemming from a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks.

It’s notable, too, that Texas clinics didn’t race to resume abortion services following Pitman’s ruling, The Texas Tribune, reports.

That’s because the law — which effectively bans abortions after around six weeks’ gestation — allows retroactive lawsuits against providers who treat patients should the Fifth Circuit or Supreme Court overrule the trial judge.

Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, expressed relief in a written statement:

“As we face an abortion ban here in Florida we’re grateful for the preliminary relief granted to Texans who have lived for more than a month now in a world where Roe v. Wade didn’t apply,” Goodhue said.

“The stakes in Florida couldn’t be higher because not only do our citizens rely on Florida for abortion care but so do the surrounding states where abortion is already so difficult to access,” she added.

“The fight continues in Texas even as it begins in Florida. Planned Parenthood has fought for access to safe and legal abortion care for more than a century and we won’t stop now.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misreported that The Texas Tribune is a Phoenix affiliate. It is an independent news organization headquartered in Austin.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.