On the heels of Gov. Ron DeSantis signing a law that would ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, a coalition is mobilizing an effort to put the question of abortion on Florida’s 2024 ballot.
The group, called Floridians Protecting Freedom, is proposing a constitutional amendment to protect the right of a woman to have an abortion up to the point where the fetus could survive outside the womb.
“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,” the proposed language reads. Viability is usually at about 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The coalition — which includes organizers from the ACLU of Florida, Florida Rising, Florida Planned Parenthood groups and Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida — is hoping that voters will back the effort. They note that polls show a majority of Floridians support safe and legal access to abortion.
“This campaign will ensure that Floridians are able to make these personal medical decisions themselves without government interference,” said Kara Gross, the legislative director at the ACLU of Florida.
Florida’s Constitution includes a right to privacy, which the state Supreme Court has previously held protects abortion access. But the DeSantis administration is challenging that precedent as part of an ongoing lawsuit over Florida’s current 15-week abortion ban. (Florida’s new six-week abortion law would only go into effect if the state gets a favorable ruling in that case.)
Gross said the group is aiming for the 2024 ballot, instead of a later election date, because Florida’s current abortion law is already affecting people’s rights.
To make it to the ballot, the group will need to gather about 892,000 petitions, representing at least half of Florida’s congressional districts — meaning the petitions can’t all come from concentrated Democratic areas. The language of the proposed constitutional amendment must also undergo judicial review to make sure that it includes only a single subject and would not mislead voters. The Florida Supreme Court has previously rejected ballot proposals over language.
Once on the ballot, the amendment needs to be passed by at least 60% of the voters.
Gross said it will be a “multimillion-dollar campaign,” and that they have already begun an “aggressive” fundraising effort. She said the language of the amendment that they have worked on is “so simple and so clear” that it would be difficult for courts to take any issue with it.
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Shelly Tien, an abortion provider, shared stories at the news conference Monday about patients in Florida who have had to travel outside of the state for care or who had dangerous outcomes because they were denied care under the current 15-week ban.
“Everyone should have the fundamental right to make these personal medical decisions that permanently impact the arc of their lives, with the support of their loved ones and within the privacy of the physician-patient relationship,” Tien said.
Ballot initiatives have been used by left-leaning Florida groups to pass legislation that may have been blocked by the Republican-dominated Legislature. Florida’s $15 minimum wage law and the restoration of voting rights for people with certain felony records both were passed through ballot initiatives.
But lawmakers have made it more difficult in recent years for proposals to get through the process. For instance, legislators changed it so petition gatherers are no longer paid based on the number of signatures, but must be paid hourly or daily instead. Petition gatherers also need to register with the state.