Florida – Florida Governor DeSantis and other conservative leaders might face a significant setback if the Florida Supreme Court decides in favor of activists wanting to get the abortion ban law onto the ballot in November. Even though they’ve encountered obstacles because of the tough rules set by conservative Republican legislators, groups supporting abortion rights are taking their case to the state Supreme Court this week, aiming to have abortion rights included in the November ballot.
Florida Supreme Court to hear arguments
On Wednesday, the court will look at if the wording for a new vote question follows state guidelines. This step must be completed by April 1 for the issue to be considered by voters. The effort to get this question on the ballot, now called Amendment 4, has enough support, and the state’s election team has officially listed it, waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision.
If it goes through, this change could reverse the state’s current abortion restrictions. This would be a major hit to Gov. Ron DeSantis and other lawmakers who have worked to make it harder for people to get such questions on the ballot.
In Florida, along with some other states, there’s a push to ensure abortion access is on the 2024 ballot, especially after similar efforts succeeded in places like Kansas and Ohio. Right now, Florida does not allow abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and aims to stop them at six weeks, but that rule isn’t enforced yet.
Those in favor of abortion rights feel hopeful about their chances. Legal experts believe the court should only check if the question sticks to one topic and if it clearly explains the amendment’s effect. However, the court leans heavily conservative and generally does not support abortion, with five out of seven judges appointed by DeSantis. They seem likely to keep the 15-week abortion ban.
Attorney General Ashley Moody says the proposal is confusing
Attorney General Ashley Moody and others against abortion rights argue that the wording of the ballot question is confusing and should not be allowed.
If the question passes, it would state that no law can ban, penalize, delay, or limit abortion before the baby could live outside the womb or if ending the pregnancy is needed for the mother’s health, as decided by her doctor.
In her initial brief filed at the end of October, Moody said the amendment was an attempt to “hoodwink” voters into approving a framework that will allow essentially unrestricted abortions.
“The ballot summary … is part of a similar 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,” Moody wrote.
Moody specifically took issue with the words “healthcare provider,” “viability” and “health.”
Moody has concerns that “viability” could mean different things and suggests this could lead to even more relaxed abortion regulations. She believes the proposed amendment lets medical professionals determine when a pregnancy can survive outside the womb and if a person’s health reasons justify an abortion later in pregnancy.
Moody also mentioned that if the court agrees with the amendment, it should remind everyone that the government’s different branches still have their usual duties in defining and applying rules about pregnancy viability and health.
However, supporting the amendment, a group of former Republican leaders, including former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, argue that the state is asking for a much stricter review than for any other ballot question before.
The officials stated that in Florida, there’s a strong belief in letting people choose their own basic laws, leading courts to be very cautious about stopping citizen-led proposals from getting to voters.
They added that it doesn’t matter if one is for or against abortion; the important thing is that the process allowing citizens to propose changes should go ahead. This way, as suggested by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dobbs case, the people can have their say.
Supreme Court review is standard procedure in Florida
It’s normal for the Supreme Court to review ballot questions in Florida, especially when there’s opposition from the state, and to hear discussions about it.
Despite the current 15-week restriction, Florida has been a refuge for women from states with stricter laws seeking abortions. This highlights the urgency of getting the abortion protection question on the ballot, especially with the threat of a six-week ban on the horizon.