US judges halt abortion bans in Kentucky and Florida

Courts block conservative states from enforcing bans as abortion rights groups push for injunctions after fall of Roe.

Pro-abortion rights protest in Washington, DC.
Activists demonstrate for abortion rights in Washington, DC on June 30, 2022 [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

US judges have temporarily blocked abortion bans in Florida and Kentucky following the US Supreme Court ruling that eliminated constitutional protections for abortion rights last week.

Circuit Court Judge John Cooper on Thursday granted a petition from abortion rights groups in Florida to freeze a state law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In Kentucky, Judge Mitch Perry put a temporary restraining order in place that prevents the state from enforcing a “trigger ban” that automatically took effect after Roe v Wade, the 1973 decision enshrining the constitutional right to an abortion, was struck down last Friday.

With the reversal of Roe, abortion rights groups have swiftly gone to court to contest efforts by Republicans to expand abortion restrictions across the country. These curbs are now taking effect or are expected to in 22 states.

State courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Utah have also blocked bans in those states since last week. Abortion providers are pushing for similar steps in Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

In April, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, signed the 15-week abortion ban. It was set to take effect on Friday.

Following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe, which centred on a Mississippi law similar to the restrictions in Florida, DeSantis said the decision “answered the prayers” of millions of Americans. About 37 percent of people in the US support the decision to overturn Roe, a recent poll found.

But Judge Cooper said on Thursday that Florida had failed to provide “convincing and credible evidence” that the law “exhibits a compelling state interest to be protected”.

Planned Parenthood and several Florida abortion clinics had argued that Florida’s state constitution guarantees women the right to have an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

In a statement following Cooper’s ruling, Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the decision offered a “glimmer of hope” for abortion rights, adding that the ruling “could not come at a more crucial time”.

Cooper agreed that the law violated the state constitution, and pointed to a previous ruling by Florida’s highest court that found the right to an abortion contained in the state constitution is broader than the federal equivalent.

The decision will go into effect once Cooper signs a written order, which he has not yet done.

Republicans are likely to appeal the decision, which could reach a Florida Supreme Court that now comprises exclusively Republican-appointed judges.

Kentucky is one of 13 states with “trigger bans” outlawing abortion once Roe was struck down, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights advocacy group.

The state’s abortion ban has no exceptions for rape or incest. It has limited medical exceptions permitting abortion only to prevent death or serious, permanent injury.

Two abortion clinics contested the ban, along with another law that prohibits abortion after six weeks, before many people are aware that they are pregnant.

The decision to put the state’s trigger ban on hold is temporary, and another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday on the request for an injunction against the two laws.

The state’s Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron criticised the decision.

Cameron said in a statement that in the wake of a “historic victory for life” the Kentucky judge had “without basis in the Kentucky Constitution, allowed two clinics to resume abortions”.

Cameron promised to “continue defending this law and to ensure that unborn life is protected”.

Asked if the attorney general was confident that the ruling would be reversed, a spokesperson for Cameron directed Al Jazeera to his statement and said they had “no further comment at this time”.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a motion on Thursday afternoon to nullify a temporary restraining order that prevented the state from enforcing pre-Roe criminal penalties for abortion procedures.

“The Texas Legislature has never repealed the State’s longstanding criminal laws that prohibit abortion,” Paxton said in a statement. “Now that the Supreme Court has overruled Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, Texas law against abortion can be enforced.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies