Florida’s only female candidate for governor seizes on fear of Roe v. Wade overturn

"It has been far too long that we have had men weighing in on women’s unique health care issues," says Gwen Graham.
Former congresswoman Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor, addresses the media in Tallahassee on Thursday. [ADAM C. SMITH | Times]
Former congresswoman Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor, addresses the media in Tallahassee on Thursday. [ADAM C. SMITH | Times]
Published July 3, 2018|Updated July 3, 2018

President Donald Trump's chance to appoint another Supreme Court justice has liberals and women fearing an overturn of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision protecting abortion rights in America.

But where they see doom, Gwen Graham sees a chance to further emphasize that she's the only woman running for governor.

The Democrat and former congresswoman has quickly made abortion a prominent campaign issue, tweeting and issuing press releases vowing to protect a woman's right to choose in Florida.

"Women know what's at stake in this election," she tweeted Tuesday. "With Roe v. Wade on the line, our rights are on the ballot."

And at last week's Florida Blue Democratic convention, Graham said it was one of the biggest concerns.

"Every event I went to, every caucus event I went to, people were talking about this," she told the Times/Herald. "It's going to be a significant issue in the race, and it should be."

Getting the support of women is key to Graham's strategy for winning the crowded Democratic primary. She's quick to point out that she's the only woman in the race – "Gwen and the men," she's said. And with women voters turning out and electing women in primaries around the country, capitalizing on issues like abortion is crucial to success.

While a Supreme Court pick seems like a battle that's distant from the Florida governor's race, it could become an issue in a hurry.

There is no guarantee that the court would overturn or weaken Roe. But with Trump poised to appoint another person to the court, giving conservatives a 5-4 advantage over liberals, the chances have never been better.

And if that happens, the issue would likely be left up to the states to set their own policies on abortion.

In Florida, the person sitting in the Florida governor's mansion would be in a critical position to block or approve anti-abortion bills coming out of the state's Republican-controlled Legislature.

And the bills are likely to come. Just three years ago, lawmakers passed – and Gov. Rick Scott signed – a bill that would have required women wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. The bill was ruled unconstitutional by Florida's Supreme Court, a decision the state appealed in February.

But the lawmaker behind the bill, state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, told Politico last week that she would bring up even stronger anti-abortion legislation if Roe is overturned.

Women were already enthusiastic about voting in 2018, evidenced by the success of women in primary elections around the country, according to Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily's List, which helps elect "pro-choice Democratic women." The organization has given her $471,000, making it Graham's top donor.

But the prospect of a Supreme Court rollback of women's rights has given women "a super jolt of energy" for the fall, Schriock told the Times/Herald on the way to a rally for Graham.

Republicans "clearly want to strip away access to reproductive health care for women in Florida," Schriock said.

Polls have consistently shown that roughly two thirds of men and women agree with Roe v. Wade, although Republicans mostly disagree with it. In a Quinnipiac poll released Monday, 58 percent of Republicans disagreed with the landmark decision, while 36 percent agreed.

When pressed at last week's Republican governor's debate, however, neither Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam nor Congressman Ron DeSantis would say whether Trump's Supreme Court pick should overturn the decision.

But the Supreme Court wouldn't necessarily have to overturn the decision. They could weaken it instead. Both Putnam and DeSantis said they support the so-called "heartbeat bill," an Iowa law that bans abortions at the detection of a heartbeat.

Of course, any Democrat elected governor is unlikely to sign a bill that restricts abortion.

But Graham, who would be the state's first female governor, said that's besides the point.

"It has been far too long that we have had men weighing in on women's unique health care issues," Graham said. "It's time we have a woman in the room, a voice for women, and as the only woman in the race, I'm the only one who can speak to this."