Progressive faith groups sue Florida over abortion restrictions

A collection of faith-based groups is suing Florida for its 15-week abortion ban, claiming a violation of their right to freedom of religion.

Plaintiff includes 3 reformed Jewish rabbis, the Episcopalian church pries, The Universalist minister, and a Buddhist lama. Besides a basic violation of religious freedom on First Amendment grounds, the plaintiff also claims it violates a Florida law protecting religious freedom. This law protects religions from substantial burden unless there is a compelling state interest that cannot be accomplished by lesser means.

“The relationship between clergy and their congregants has, until now, been protected, revered, and respected as sacrosanct and inviolable.” the lawsuit reads “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.”

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Pro-abortion rabbi and civil rights attorney Barri Silver is one of the leaders of the original interfaith lawsuit. He argues along the same lines as the pro-abortion movement writ large; “a Jewish woman, if her health is threatened, even her emotional wellbeing — if that is threatened by the fetus, she is not only entitled to abortion, she’s required to have an abortion. She cannot sacrifice herself or her well-being for the fetus,”

She cannot sacrifice herself or her well-being for the fetus,

Daniel Uhfelder, a civil rights attorney and candidate for attorney general, also joined the lawsuit.

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Silver also claimed that the ban “lays out the religious argument that a synagogue could make” and that “…their right to practice religion has been infringed upon.”

This is the critical issue, as in order for a lawsuit on religious grounds such as this one to be successful, the plaintiff must prove that the law is not neutrally applicable and especially impacts religious groups in some ways. While Silver and the rest of the Plaintiff are confident that this is the case. Silver notes that the law’s announcement took place in a church and claimed the rationale for the law was religious.

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However, some legal experts aren’t so sure. Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia Law School professor, argues that preventing abortion is a compelling state interest. This satisfies the religious freedom law regarding substantial burden and overrides the state constitution as well. Not to mention that this law applies to anyone seeking an abortion, religious and non-religious, making the argument that it is not neutrally applicable a difficult one.

Furthermore, the lawsuit seeks a complete overturning of the law. Silver claims this is because verifying one’s religiosity is nigh impossible, but most cases of this type request an exemption regardless.

This suit comes amid many others, including one from the ACLU on behalf of Planned Parenthood. According to UPI “Absent an injunction, the act will prevent Floridians from exercising their fundamental constitutional right to decide whether to have an abortion prior to viability, causing irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law,” the ACLU of Florida said in the court document.”

Regardless, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody made a statement affirming that her office would continue to defend the statute.


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