Abortion rights groups in Florida want voters to repeal the bans

Shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill last month banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, a coalition called Floridians Protecting Freedom announced an effort to reverse the ban.

The coalition is seeking voter support to return the abortion rights allowed under the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade from 1973. That would be until viability, or when a fetus could survive on its own outside the womb, which is widely interpreted as around 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

Florida used to allow abortions until they were feasible, before the Legislature began passing tougher restrictions that began last year with a 15-week ban.

The bill signed last month by DeSantis would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. It will take effect only if the state’s current 15-week ban is upheld in a legal challenge before the state Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservatives.

The new law contains some exceptions, including to save the life of the woman. Abortions for pregnancies involving rape or incest would be allowed up to 15 weeks into the pregnancy, as long as the woman has documentation such as a restraining order or police report.

The latest state abortion poll shows a large majority opposes the six-week ban. About 75% of registered Florida voters surveyed in March by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab were somewhat or strongly opposed to the six-week abortion ban. That included a majority of Republicans (61%) who opposed the ban.

The coalition of groups seeking the proposed constitutional amendment includes the ACLU of Florida, Planned Parenthood, Florida Rising and Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida. They will need nearly 900,000 valid petition signatures to be placed on the November 2024 ballot. They face a February 1, 2024 deadline to submit signatures to the state. The Florida Supreme Court must also approve the proposed language on the ballot. At least 60 percent of voters must approve it for it to pass.

“It’s a different way of allowing citizens to have a voice,” said Daniel Smith, chair of the political science department at the University of Florida. “That’s a direct method as opposed to an indirect representative function of choosing individuals.”

READ MORE: Florida Organizations Launch Campaign to Put Abortion Rights on the Ballot

Over the years, Florida voters have approved constitutional amendments such as banning smoking inside workplaces, raising the state’s minimum wage and restoring voting rights to ex-offenders.

These can also be reversed. In 2000, voters approved a statewide high-speed rail line, only to later cast enough votes to scrap the train project four years later.

Because passage of any constitutional amendment requires 60% approval, it requires bipartisan support.

Smith said, “You can’t get there with just Republicans. You can’t get there with just Democrats. You can’t even get there with just Democrats and no party affiliation.” [voters].”

Kat Duesterhaus, founder of an abortion rights movement called Bans Off Miami, views abortion as a non-partisan issue.

“This is a problem of believing that there should be limits with the government and the limits are our bodies,” Duesterhaus told WLRN at a recent event to collect signatures for petition forms in support of the electoral effort.

However, some anti-abortion groups continue their fight to ban all abortions.

Andrew Shirvell, founder and executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, said his group wants Florida to be “abortion-free.”

“The recently enacted Heartbeat Bill, if and when it takes effect, does not go far enough in protecting innocent lives because it arbitrarily and capriciously deems many unborn children unworthy of legal protection,” it said in a statement. after the six weeks The bill was signed into law last month. “The fact is, the Heartbeat bill will not make Florida abortion-free.”

Recent efforts for abortion rights in other states have been successful. Voters in Vermont, California and Michigan have voted in favor of the abortion rights amendments in their own state constitutions. In Kansas, voters rejected a ballot proposition that would have allowed lawmakers to tighten restrictions or ban abortion altogether.

The Floridians Protecting Freedom coalition needs to collect enough signed petition forms from registered voters to equal 8% of the votes cast in the last presidential election. They need 891,523 signatures for the 2024 ballot, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

“We recognize that this is a huge task,” Duesterhaus said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

If it appears on the ballot, the article would read: “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before it is feasible or when necessary to protect the health of the patient, as determined by the health care provider of the patient. This amendment does not change the constitutional authority of the Legislature to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.”

Signed petition forms must come from half of the state’s 28 constituencies. The coalition has paid petition collectors, but also relies on the help of volunteers from across the state.

Volunteers participate in weekly online training to learn how to collect petitions.

Sara Latshaw, deputy political director for the ACLU of Florida, said another challenge facing the petition group is the cost of the campaign. A law passed in 2020 requires non-volunteer petition collectors to be paid a salary or hourly wage.

“What might have cost $4 or $5 million in 2018 is now three to four times as much, from a paid position perspective,” Latshaw said. “It’s going to be a multi-million dollar campaign. It’s going to be very expensive to run, but we’ve received a tremendous amount of support in terms of donations. In our first 10 days, we’ve raised $2 million.”