Abortion ‘Statement’ Ruling Stays On Hold

TALLAHASSEE — An appeals court Monday kept on hold a ruling that would require a revamped “financial impact statement” that will appear on the November ballot with a proposed constitutional amendment about abortion rights and refused to fast-track the issue to the Florida Supreme Court.

The 1st District Court of Appeal approved the state’s request for a stay of a ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper and rejected a suggestion by the Floridians Protecting Freedom political committee that the dispute be sent to the Supreme Court — a move that would have essentially skipped consideration of the case by the appeals court. Floridians Protecting Freedom is helping lead efforts to pass the abortion amendment.

Monday’s order did not explain the appeals court’s decisions, but it was the latest twist in a legal battle about the financial impact statement.

Financial impact statements appear with ballot initiatives to provide estimated effects of the measures on government revenues and the state budget. A state panel issued the financial impact statement for the abortion proposal in November 2023.

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But Floridians Protecting Freedom filed the lawsuit after the state Supreme Court issued two major abortion rulings in April, including a ruling that allowed a law to take effect preventing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The political committee argued that the financial impact statement needed to be revised because of the Supreme Court rulings.

In his June 10 ruling, Cooper ordered that the statement be redrafted within 15 days. He wrote that the statement violates the Florida Constitution and state law “because it presents largely outdated information about the legality of abortion under statutes and litigation unrelated to Amendment 4 (the abortion amendment).”

The state appealed, which touched off legal wrangling about whether Cooper’s ruling should be put on hold while the appeal plays out. The appeals court last week approved what is known as an administrative stay, which temporarily put the ruling on hold.

In Monday’s order, it granted the state’s broader request for a stay that will keep Cooper’s ruling on hold “until further order of the court.”

In seeking a stay, the state’s lawyers’ argued that Cooper did not have legal jurisdiction to order a redrafted financial impact statement. Such statements are drawn up by a panel known as the Financial Impact Estimating Conference.

“The circuit court has unlawfully injected itself into the citizen initiative process by ordering the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, within 15 days, to redraft the financial impact statement that will accompany the proposed amendment respecting abortion that the people will vote on in this fall’s election,” the state’s lawyers wrote.

In response, Floridians Protecting Freedom said it would agree to a stay until July 1, when the Financial Impact Estimating Conference is scheduled to meet again. The panel scheduled the meeting last week to discuss the abortion financial impact statement.

But Floridians Protecting Freedom argued a stay should not last beyond July 1.

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“Allowing the stay to continue would mean that FPF (Floridians Protecting Freedom) would be required to expend unnecessary time, energy, and resources educating voters about the inaccuracies of the FIS (financial impact statement) that everyone agrees is unlawfully misleading,” the committee’s attorneys wrote in a court filing Friday. “The unlawful FIS is part of the public record, and voters seeking to educate themselves on the amendment are, and will be, reading it in the time leading up to the election. The only way to remedy this harm is by immediately redrafting the FIS, making it publicly available, and using the newly drafted FIS (assuming it is clear and not misleading) on the general election ballot.”

The committee also separately urged that the case be forwarded to the Supreme Court, a step known as certifying the case to the Supreme Court.

“Because time is of the essence, because any decision by this (appeals) court will be subject to Supreme Court review, and because the Supreme Court is already familiar with the important issues on appeal, this court should certify the order and offer the Supreme Court the opportunity to resolve this appeal now, without further delay,” the committee’s motion said.

While it kept Cooper’s ruling on hold and rejected certification to the Supreme Court, the appeals court Monday approved an “expedited” schedule that included a July 1 final deadline for briefs to be filed. It also said that given “the expedited nature of the case, the court dispenses with oral argument.”

The financial impact statement issued in November included caveats about litigation surrounding state abortion laws and concluded, “Because there are several possible outcomes related to this litigation that differ widely in their effects, the impact of the proposed amendment on state and local government revenues and costs, if any, cannot be determined.”

The proposed constitutional amendment says, in part, that no “law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.” It has drawn opposition from Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state Republican leaders.

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