Cleary Files Amicus Brief in Support of Petitioners Challenging Florida Abortion Ban

March 14, 2023

Cleary Gottlieb filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Sanctuary for Families and ten other advocates and legal experts in support of petitioners in Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, et al. v. State of Florida, et al., currently before the Supreme Court of Florida.

Sanctuary for Families, a longstanding Cleary pro bono client, is New York’s leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence.

The lawsuit brings a state constitutional challenge to Florida’s House Bill 5, which bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy with only two extremely limited exceptions and which has been in effect since July 1, 2022. The Florida state constitution contains an express right to privacy that operates independently of U.S. constitutional interpretations, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The amicus brief urges the court to consider the disproportionate impact that the ban will have on victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and other forms of gender-based violence, who already experience compromised bodily and reproductive autonomy and for whom unwanted pregnancies, non-consensual pregnancies, and later terminations are common. The ban will force many victims to carry their pregnancies to term against their will and “[t]hough the ban may appear incremental, its consequences will be quantifiable—it will cost victims of IPV and gender-based violence their liberty and lives.”

Relying on independent peer-reviewed studies, the brief explains that pregnancy increases the risk of violence, harm, and death from IPV in the United States, where homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. The brief describes how abusers use “reproductive coercion, such as birth control sabotage, proscription of sterilization, interference with access to health care, and forced sex” to trap their victims in cycles of abuse. The brief demonstrates that universal barriers to obtaining abortion services, including financial and logistical constraints, “are exacerbated for victims of IPV and other forms of gender-based violence,” who may have to seek access to reproductive health services “while being subjected to the intimidation, coercion, surveillance, and interference of an abusive partner.” For these victims, abortion is an essential, potentially life-saving recourse.

The Florida Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction of this case on January 23, 2023. On March 13, 2023, the court granted the Sanctuary for Families’ motion for leave to file its amicus brief, along with amicus briefs from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Floridians for Reproductive Freedom, LatinoJustice, National Council of Jewish Women, current and former elected officials, and others.

Read the amicus brief here, filed on behalf of Sanctuary for Families; Legal Momentum; The National Organization for Women Foundation; The Rapid Benefits Group Fund; Women for Abortion and Reproductive Rights; Margaret A. Baldwin, J.D.; Professor Cyra Choudhury; Professor Donna K. Coker; Professor Zanita E. Fenton; Doctor Kathryn M. Nowotny, Ph.D.; and Jodi Russell.