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Florida abortion amendment gets enough signatures for 2024 ballot

The constitutional amendment still needs the approval of the Florida Supreme Court to qualify.
 
Abortion access protesters gathered at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in Tampa on Jan. 22, 2023, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
Abortion access protesters gathered at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in Tampa on Jan. 22, 2023, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. [ AYA DIAB | Times ]
Published Jan. 5|Updated Jan. 5

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would undo Florida’s restrictive abortion laws have surpassed the required number of petition signatures to get on the 2024 ballot, according to data from the Florida Division of Elections.

But Floridians Protecting Freedom still faces the hurdle of state Supreme Court approval. Attorney General Ashley Moody has asked the Florida high court to disqualify the amendment from the ballot, saying the language could mislead voters.

The proposal would amend the state’s Constitution to explicitly protect abortion access until viability, which is estimated to be around 24 weeks.

It would undo the state’s current 15-week abortion ban and negate a six-week ban lawmakers approved to take effect pending the outcome of an ongoing Florida Supreme Court case.

The Florida group needed 891,523 verified petitions to make it on the ballot. As of Friday’s count, the Division of Elections had verified 910,946. The campaign said it expects to receive official notification in the coming weeks.

More than 63,000 of those petitions came from Pinellas and more than 71,000 came from Hillsborough. The most validated petitions, at about 54,000, came from Congressional District 14, which is composed of parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas.

“The fact that we only launched our campaign eight months ago and we’ve already reached our petition goal speaks to the unprecedented support and momentum there is to get politicians out of our private lives and health care decisions,” Floridians Protecting Freedom Campaign Director Lauren Brenzel said in a statement. “Most initiative campaigns never make it this far. The ones that do usually spend far more or take much longer to qualify, which is why we’re so confident that voters will approve our amendment once they’re given a chance to vote.”

Brenzel also stressed that the issue is a nonpartisan one. In an internal analysis, Brenzel said about 15% of petitions came from Republicans and over 25% came from people affiliated with no major political party.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 overturned Roe v. Wade — the 1973 case that declared abortion was constitutionally protected — seven states have had ballot measures related to abortion. In each case, voters have supported more abortion access or denied further restrictions. The most recent case was in Ohio, where about 57% of voters in November supported a measure that would protect abortion up until viability, similar to Florida’s proposed amendment.

Brenzel on Friday said the campaign has been led by people in Florida, from campaign staff to volunteers to attorneys to key funders, but said the campaign has seen a boost in national support following Ohio’s election. Brenzel said she expects that support to continue, particularly because Florida is surrounded by other states where abortion is largely banned entirely.

“We know that national partners who care deeply about abortion access and who have been carrying the charge since the overturn of Roe v. Wade will support Florida because this access to abortion is absolutely critical,” Brenzel said.

Floridians Protecting Freedom, which is backed by organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Florida, had raised nearly $16 million so far, according to the campaign.

According to data through September available from the Florida Division of Elections, the largest one-time donation, of $1 million, came from Democratic activist and philanthropist Marsha Laufer, who donated in late April shortly before the campaign’s launch.

The next step for the campaign will depend on the conservative Florida Supreme Court’s ruling. The court has scheduled oral arguments for Feb. 7. Moody raised concern over the amendment’s use of the term “viability,” which she says can be interpreted as having multiple meanings.

Florida law defines viability as “the stage of fetal development when the life of a fetus is sustainable outside the womb through standard medical measures.”

Hélène Barthélemy, an attorney representing the campaign, said Moody’s argument was disingenuous and said viability has long been defined as when life is sustainable outside the womb.

“The truth is voters know what viability means, and they will see right through this effort to silence their voice,” Barthélemy said.

If the amendment makes it onto the ballot, it can only pass with at least 60% of voters in support.