Faith-based groups sue to overturn Florida's 15-week abortion ban

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A collection of faith groups is suing Florida over its 15-week abortion ban, the third legal challenge to the state’s controversial new abortion law.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Miami-Dade County Court, argues that the new law, passed by lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, violates constitutional freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion and the constitutional separation of Church and State.

“For decades, the Catholic bishops and Evangelical right wing have claimed a singular religious high ground on the issue of abortion rights, and tried to label anyone opposed to their views as ‘secularists,’” said Marci Hamilton, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, who is representing the plaintiffs. “Yet there are millions of Americans whose deeply held religious beliefs, speech and conduct are being substantially burdened by restrictive abortion bans.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of multiple religious groups, including Reform Judaism, Buddhism, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Church.

“The relationship between clergy and their congregants has, until now, been protected, revered, and respected as sacrosanct and inviolable,” reads the lawsuit. “Now, Defendants have inserted themselves into this alliance by imposing criminal penalties on those who counsel, aid and/or assist with an abortion after fifteen weeks, with no religious accommodation provided and no exceptions for the psychological health of the pregnant woman or girl, incest, rape, or trafficking, non-fatal fetal abnormalities, or psychological disease or impairment.”

This lawsuit follows one filed in Leon County Circuit Court June by a South Florida Jewish congregation that also argues the new law, which provides no exceptions for rape and incest, violates rights to privacy and religion.

A separate lawsuit filed by The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, on behalf of Planned Parenthood, argues the new abortion law violates privacy language in Florida’s constitution that bans governments from intruding in people’s personal lives. That same language has been used in the past to strike down previous abortion laws.

That lawsuit is still working its way through the legal process. A state circuit court judge halted the law for a short time in June but it remains in effect.

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office has asked the 1st District Court of Appeals to move the case directly to the Florida Supreme Court, which after an overhaul by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ is seen as more conservative-leaning than when the high court considered previous abortion laws.