Florida Republicans trying to block voters from deciding abortion rights

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By Giselle Balido

January 3, 2024

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments next month on whether to allow a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee abortion rights onto the 2024 ballot.

As Floridians wait to see if the Florida Supreme Court upholds Gov. Ron DeSantis’ abortion ban, the same court has announced it will hear arguments on Feb. 7 about a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ensuring abortion rights in the state.

As of Jan. 3, the state Division of Elections website shows that Floridians Protecting Freedom, the political committee which launched the amendment drive in May of last year, has obtained 863,876 valid petition signatures of the 891,523 it needs to submit before the Feb. 1 deadline to be eligible for the ballot. 

The total verified signatures must be collected in at least 14 of the state’s 28 congressional districts. At this time, the organizers have met the required threshold of verified signatures in 13 districts. To make sure the requirement is met, organizers are focusing on gathering signatures in 16 congressional districts.

However, the proposed amendment is facing opposition from Attorney General Ashley Moody, who has asked the court to weigh issues such as whether the amendment’s wording is clear to voters. 

RELATED: What a six-week abortion ban would mean for women in Florida

Moody’s effort to block abortion rights from the ballot

The ballot summary of the abortion measure says, in part: “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.”

Among other objections, Moody claims that the word “viability” is part of an “overall design to lay ticking time bombs that will enable abortion proponents later to argue that the amendment has a much broader meaning than voters would ever have thought.”

In reality, viability is largely understood to mean the point at which the fetus is viable outside the uterus, which is usually between 23 and 24 weeks.

In November, Floridians Protecting Freedom responded to Moody’s claim in a brief. 

“The attorney general argues the term ‘viability’ has lost its meaning in the abortion context, notwithstanding the countless sources consistently defining it in line with common understanding,” the brief said. “[Voters] can be trusted to know what it would mean to live in a world limiting government interference with abortion before viability.” 

RELATED: What the 2024 Republican candidates are saying about abortion bans

The push to enshrine abortion rights via the ballot comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a 15-week abortion ban into law in 2022 and a six-week ban into law last year. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and other abortion providers filed a lawsuit challenging the 15-week ban in a case that has reached the state Supreme Court. If the court approves the 15-week ban, the six-week ban would take effect 30 days later, cutting off access to abortion early in the first trimester.

Pro-choice advocates say that if the six-week ban goes into effect, it would devastate women, especially those who suffer medical complications or miscarriages “that could put their life at risk or the baby’s life at risk,” Alejandra Rondon, Latinx constituency manager at Florida Rising, Florida’s largest independent political progressive organization, told Floricua.  

If the proposal reaches the ballot, it will need approval of 60% of voters to pass. An early 2023 University of North Florida (UNF) poll showed 75% of Floridians also opposed a six-week abortion ban, with 62 percent opposing it “strongly” (the poll described the law as having no exceptions, while the bill DeSantis signed has exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest).

For her part, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Lauren Book (D-Davie) is confident that the measure will make it on the ballot. 

“We will win this latest challenge, we will put abortion rights on the ballot, and voters will choose to restore women’s rights, because at the end of the day, Florida’s ban on women’s fundamental rights is dangerous, unpopular, and wrong,” Book said.

Author

  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.

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