Judges in Florida and Kentucky on Thursday moved to block those states from enforcing bans or restrictions on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court last week overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had established a nationwide right to it.
In Tallahassee, Florida, Circuit Court Judge John Cooper said he would grant a petition from abortion rights groups to temporarily put on hold a state law that would bar abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.
In Kentucky, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mitch Perry issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from enforcing a ban passed in 2019 and triggered by the Supreme Court's decision.
Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court threw out lower federal court rulings that had invalidated abortion limits in Arizona, Arkansas and Indiana based on Roe.
With a federal right to abortion no longer guaranteed, abortion rights groups and clinics have rushed to state courts seeking to slow or halt Republican-backed restrictions on the ability of women to terminate pregnancies that are now taking effect or are poised to do so in 22 states.
State courts in Texas, Louisiana and Utah have also temporarily blocked bans in those states since last week, and abortion providers are seeking similar relief in states including Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi and West Virginia.
Florida's 15-week ban, which was signed into law by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in April, was set to take effect on Friday. The law mirrors the Mississippi law at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court case that reversed Roe.
"I do find the state has failed to provide convincing and credible evidence that this law, HB 5, exhibits a compelling state interest to be protected," Judge Cooper said on Thursday..
Several groups, including Planned Parenthood affiliates and Florida abortion clinics, had filed a lawsuit arguing that the state constitution protects women's right to an abortion for up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Cooper said he agreed the statute violates the state constitution's guarantee of a right to privacy, noting that the state Supreme Court has previously ruled the state right is broader than the federal equivalent and includes the right to abortion.
The judge said his decision would only take effect after he signs a written order, which would not be issued on Thursday.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, had no immediate comment. An appeal is likely, though, and the case could eventually reach the state's high court, whose composition has changed and now includes all Republican-appointed justices.
Kentucky is one of 13 states that enacted so-called "trigger" laws designed to take effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group.
The Kentucky ban has limited medical exceptions permitting abortion only to prevent the death of or serious, permanent injury to a woman.
Abortion services had halted in the state since Friday, when the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to enact new bans.
Two abortion clinics, including a Planned Parenthood affiliate, challenged Kentucky's ban as well as another that bars abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before some women know they are pregnant.
The decision is temporary, though, and a further hearing is scheduled on Wednesday on the clinics' request for an injunction to further block enforcement of the laws.
"We're glad the court recognized the devastation happening in Kentucky and decided to block the commonwealth's cruel abortion bans," Planned Parenthood said in a statement.
State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, said in a statement that Judge Perry had no basis under Kentucky's constitution to allow the clinics to resume performing abortions.
"We cannot let the same mistake that happened in Roe v. Wade, nearly 50 years ago, to be made again in Kentucky," he said. "We will be seeking relief from this order."
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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