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Florida rabbi challenging state’s abortion law files new suit with added plaintiffs, including physician

Rabbi Barry Silver and his co-plaintiffs argue that Florida’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks infringes on the state constitution’s right to privacy and freedom of religion.
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The progressive Florida rabbi challenging the state's post-Roe abortion law planned to file a new lawsuit Tuesday with additional plaintiffs, including a physician who performs abortions, four clergy members and a woman claiming her legal right to terminate a pregnancy.

Rabbi Barry Silver and his co-plaintiffs argue that Florida's ban on abortions after 15 weeks infringes on the state constitution's right to privacy, freedom of religion and other legal principles.

Silver, the rabbi at Congregation L'Dor Va-Dor in Palm Beach County, first filed a suit over the state law in June, before it took effect at the start of July. In the new filing, Silver is joined by obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Daniel N. Sacks as well as two Unitarian reverends, a Buddhist minister and another rabbi.

"I joined the lawsuit because I strongly believe abortion is essential healthcare and I believe no one should be oppressed by others' beliefs, religious or otherwise," Sacks said in a text message to NBC News on Tuesday. "Government interference is based on the religious beliefs of some and has no place in medicine."

In the lawsuit, Sacks alleges in part that the new law has caused him "personal and professional stress as he is now unable — without violating the law and incurring criminal and other sanctions — to provide what he believes to be essential healthcare to his patients."

The list of plaintiffs also includes a 42-year-old woman who "deeply believes that life begins at birth" and seeks to resist the new restrictions, "despite the law's threat to her and her doctor of criminal prosecution," according to a summary of the lawsuit obtained by NBC News.

The plaintiffs are represented by Silver, who happens to be a civil rights attorney, as well as a litigation team that includes David Ferleger of Pennsylvania, Henry Sorett of Massachusetts and Daniel Uhlfelder, a Democratic candidate for Florida attorney general.

Silver’s legal battle comes as abortion rights advocates scramble to push back on anti-abortion laws following the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

The rabbi plans to announce the details of his new lawsuit at a news conference at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.

In a news release, Silver excoriated Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely believed to be eyeing a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

"The [law] has no rational basis and serves no compelling governmental interest. The only interest it serves is the lust for power of Governor DeSantis who wants to appeal to his base and become the next President," the statement said.

"Women should not have to pay with their lives, and the freedom of speech and religion of Floridians should not be sacrificed at the altar of political ambition."

In an emailed statement Tuesday, DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said: "Our comment on any potential lawsuit is the same as our comment on all other legal challenges to the pro-life HB 5 legislation. Governor DeSantis is pro-life, and we believe HB 5 will ultimately withstand all legal challenges.

"The struggle for life is not over," Griffin added in bolded text.

The state's new abortion restrictions make an exception for instances where the pregnant person could face serious injury or death, or in the event of a "fatal fetal abnormality."

Silver, like many other progressive rabbis and Jewish leaders across the U.S., believes that abortion is a basic human right — and that life begins at birth, not conception.

In the Jewish legal tradition, Silver has said, "abortion is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman."

Silver, a former Democratic member of the Florida House and a self-described "Rabbi Rouser," argues that restrictions on access to abortion are drawn from conservative Christian theology and therefore amount to "theocratic tyranny."

NBC News previously reported that Silver would be joined in his legal fight by the retired Unitarian Rev. Harris Riordan, the Buddhist minister Maya Malay and Rabbi Arthur Wascow, the founder and director of the progressive Jewish organization the Shalom Center.

The new lawsuit has an additional plaintiff from the Unitarian tradition: the Rev. Tony Fisher, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister who serves a congregation in Greater Naples, Florida.