By Letitia Stein
TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – A federal judge has blocked parts of a new Florida law aiming to cut off state funding for preventive health services at clinics that also provide abortions, acting shortly before the restrictions took effect on Friday.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction late on Thursday after state Planned Parenthood affiliates challenged certain provisions as unconstitutional.
Hinkle found the clinics were unacceptably targeted by state efforts to eliminate funding for other healthcare services they also provide, such as birth control and screening for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
“The state’s only beef is that the plaintiffs provide abortions,” he wrote, noting that Florida already prohibits funding for abortions, as courts have held permissible.
Florida is among many states adopting new abortion laws as conservatives seek to chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Supporters argued that the wide-ranging law adopted this spring in Florida would protect women’s health. It included restrictions similar to those in a Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down earlier this week.
Planned Parenthood, however, did not challenge in its lawsuit a related provision requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a type of formal affiliation that can be difficult to obtain.
The organization’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Northern District of Florida, focused on the funding cuts, which it said jeopardized about $500,000 annually. Planned Parenthood also challenged a new requirement that state inspectors review 50 percent of patient medical records at abortion clinics.
Hinkle’s 25-page injunction also blocked the additional inspections, noting that the volume requirements for abortion clinics far exceeded the standards for other medical facilities.
“The inspection provision is a solution in search of a problem,” Hinkle wrote.
In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood also raised concerns about changes in how the state defines gestational stages. The terminology was clarified during a court hearing, said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, who applauded the judge’s ruling.
“This means this vital programs will continue to go forward,” she said in a phone interview. “Because anti-women’s health politicians want to end abortion, they went to the lengths of trying to stop these preventive services.”
The Florida Department of Health, named in the lawsuit, did not immediately provide comment. Neither did the office of Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Bill Trott)