Judge definitively blocks Florida abortion law

A federal judge on Thursday definitively blocked a Florida abortion law to prevent state funds from going to organizations that provide abortions — after the administration of Gov. Rick Scott made the unusual decision to drop further legal action.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle had placed a temporary hold on the challenged portions of the law hours before the law took effect last June.

The sweeping law also was designed to greatly increase inspection requirements for abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood challenged three parts of the law.

But instead of taking the case to trial and offering additional evidence or legal arguments, attorneys for the Scott administration agreed to forgo further legal action. They filed a joint motion with the plaintiffs earlier this month agreeing to end the litigation. Hinkle held a brief hearing to discuss the move and issued his final ruling hours later.

"We are grateful the court stepped in to stop Rick Scott in his tracks and protect access to health care," said Lillian Tamayo, CEO of Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida. "If this law had gone into effect, it would have made a bad situation even worse."

The move by the Scott administration greatly sped up resolution of the case.

The state could still appeal the ruling, but Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, would not say if the administration would do that. She said instead the governor's office was reviewing Hinkle's decision although she added that "Scott is a pro-life governor who believes in the sanctity of life." Nonetheless, any appeal could be limited because the state cannot make any new arguments or offer additional evidence.

In the past, the Scott administration has waged lengthy legal fights over other laws supported by Scott.

Florida does not provide any money directly to Planned Parenthood, but the comprehensive abortion law signed by Scott earlier this year would have prevented any state or local funds from going to an organization if that organization also provides abortions. Planned Parenthood officials estimated that provision would prevent its clinics from receiving about $500,000 to pay for health care screenings and a school dropout prevention program.

The Florida law also contains a provision for physicians similar to a Texas law struck down earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the Florida case, Planned Parenthood did not challenge these provisions and Hinkle's ruling does not address them.

Hinkle temporarily blocked the law back in June because he said the provision that affected Planned Parenthood is "based not on any objection to how the funds are being spent ... but solely because the recipients of the funds choose to provide abortions separate and apart from any public funding."

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly — by withholding otherwise-available public funds — conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly," Hinkle wrote.

Legislators who passed the law earlier this year said they were doing so in order to protect women's health. Attorneys for the state had argued that Hinkle should let the law stand because there was nothing in it that interferes with Planned Parenthood clinics from performing abortions or burdens "the right of women to undergo abortions."