FL Supreme Court justices seem skeptical of arguments for blocking abortion rights measure

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By Giselle Balido

February 8, 2024

“The people of Florida aren’t stupid — they can figure things out,” Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz said. “People can see for themselves whether it’s too broad or vague.”

The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday to decide whether the language of a proposed ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution is clear enough, and in something of a surprise, the conservative-dominated court expressed skepticism over Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody‘s assertion that amendment’s wording is misleading.

The justices’ openness to the amendment’s language has tentatively lifted hopes that voters may get the chance to cement abortion rights in the state Constitution in November and override Gov. Ron DeSantis 15-week (and pending six-week) abortion ban.

The story so far

After Floridians Protecting Freedom (FPF) submitted enough valid voter signatures to place the initiative on voters’ ballots, the proposed constitutional amendment faced legal opposition from Moody, who has asked the high court to weigh issues such as whether the amendment’s wording is clear to voters. 

The ballot initiative’s summary states 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.” 

Moody, however, claims that the word “viability” is misleading and 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.”

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.

RELATED: Florida AG Ashley Moody faces pushback for trying to block abortion ballot measure

Speaking before the Supreme Court, Floridians Protecting Freedom’s Courtney Brewer argued that FPF “followed the directives and guidance given by this court and the constitution on the two issues before the court” regarding the wording.

“I don’t know how an amendment could better communicate its chief purpose via a summary than by putting the language of the amendment in the summary,” she said, adding that the voters would have access to that language in the ballot box.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book made a similar point in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“We know the language used in Amendment 4 is clear and precise in limiting government interference with abortion before viability,” Book wrote.

Conservative justices seem to agree

Several justices also seemed to disagree with Moody’s claim that the language was vague or misleading.

“It’s pretty obvious that this is, you know, a pretty aggressive, comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue. You know, the voters can kind of argue about whether they want something more nuanced than that. It just doesn’t seem like this is trying to be deceptive,” Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz said.

“The people of Florida aren’t stupid — they can figure things out,” Muñiz added. “People can see for themselves whether it’s too broad or vague.”

Muñiz and fellow Justices John Couriel and Charles Canady also seemed skeptical of Moody’s assertion that the ballot language does not adequately convey what the amendment would do.

“There’s no way this summary can go through all of the variables and possible implications,” Muñiz said. “There’s no answers to some of these questions and the summary says for itself that the issue is too broad.”

The proposed amendment would override DeSantis’ six-week ban that will take effect if the state Supreme Court upholds a 15-week abortion ban DeSantis signed in 2022. The six-week ban would result in felony charges for “any person who willfully performs or actively participates in a termination of pregnancy.”

An early 2023 University of North Florida (UNF) poll showed 75% of Floridians opposed a six-week abortion ban, with 62% opposing it “strongly.” 

RELATED: Biden vows to ‘restore’ nationwide abortion rights in second term

If the amendment makes the ballot, it must win at least 60% of the vote to secure passage.

The signature campaign’s apparent success has renewed the hope that the legality of abortion in Florida will be decided by the voters, not by state politicians.

“The people’s right to amend their constitution is fundamental to our state’s democracy; seeking to exercise that right, nearly one million Floridians and counting have made it clear they want to vote on the amendment before this court,” Brewer 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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