With abortion access winning big in Tuesday’s elections across the U.S., some in Florida feel renewed hope about how the issue could drive voters to the ballot box in 2024.
The most direct test of abortion’s interest came in Ohio, where 57% of voters affirmed that they want abortion to be legal up until fetal viability. But in other races across the country, like in Kentucky and in Virginia, Democrats won competitive races as the question of abortion restrictions hung heavy over those states.
Maya Brown, a Florida political consultant, said it’s clear voters care about abortion access and that it can be a mobilizing issue — despite Democrats in Florida betting big on abortion as a campaign topic in 2022 but seeing a red wave across the state that included a nearly 20-point reelection win for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Floridians Protecting Freedom, a coalition that includes Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Florida, said Tuesday’s election results are more evidence that their campaign to protect abortion access could win. The group is seeking to amend Florida’s Constitution to, like Ohio, protect abortion until viability. Florida currently has a 15-week abortion ban, and could face a six-week ban depending on the outcome of a Florida Supreme Court ruling.
“Our campaign has the time, resources, and momentum to win,“ Lauren Brenzel, campaign director for Floridians Protecting Freedom, said in a statement Tuesday. “Tonight’s victory in Ohio only strengthens our resolve to return the freedom to make decisions about abortion to the people of Florida, where it belongs.”
In each state where the question of abortion has been put to the voters after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion supporters have come away successful.
Ohio was considered the toughest fight, and potentially biggest test, of how much abortion is resonating with voters. It passed in an off-year election, when turnout is typically lower. It was also the first time red-state voters were asked to affirm abortion access instead of voting on a measure restricting access. The ballot summary language was also rewritten by the state’s Republican leadership to use terms like “unborn child.”
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has challenged the proposed amendment from Floridians Protecting Freedom, arguing that the use of the term “viability” is confusing and could be interpreted multiple ways. The state’s conservative Supreme Court, which has five Gov. Ron DeSantis appointees, will decide whether or not to allow the amendment onto the 2024 ballot. Some of those justices have known anti-abortion views.
During a Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, DeSantis acknowledged the issue abortion referendums have posed for the Republican Party and said they have to do better handling them. He said the anti-abortion cause has been “caught flat-footed on these referenda.”
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“A lot of the people who are voting for the referenda are Republicans who would vote for a Republican candidate,” DeSantis said.
Florida’s threshold to amend the Constitution is higher than in Ohio, requiring 60% of voters in favor. Brenzel isn’t deterred by Ohio falling short of that number, though. Florida voters in recent years have voted to approve progressive issues like a $15 minimum wage and restoring felon voter rights. And the group says that “Floridians are even more bold in their opposition to government interference in our private lives.”
“All of the datapoints that we have gathered in Florida have just been confirmed in Ohio,” said Anna Hochkammer, executive director of Florida’s Women Freedom Coalition, a group in favor of the Florida abortion amendment.
Hochkammer said Ohio is “not an anomaly.”
She said if a state like Ohio, which has a well-funded Republican party, can succeed and do so with support from former President Donald Trump’s voters, there’s no reason Florida can’t succeed as well. She said that even though national groups may have turned away from Florida after cycle after cycle of Democratic losses, the Ohio results change things.
“Now that Ohio has been put to bed and put to bed in such an overwhelming manner, people who are invested in these issues are starting to look at Florida and say, we’ve got the bandwidth, we’ve got the resources, and we’ve got the momentum.”
In other races across the U.S. Tuesday night, Democratic candidates won in races that Hochkammer said were proxy elections for the issue of abortion. In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear beat a Republican who supports the state’s almost total abortion ban. Beshear, in his acceptance speech, thanked a woman who spoke about her own sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather to make a case about abortion access.
And in Virginia, Democrats were able to maintain control of the state Senate and flip the state House. Virginia is currently the only Southern state to not restrict abortion access, but their Republican governor has supported a 15-week ban.
Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida, said abortion mobilizes Democrats and some independents. But he also warned against overstating the import of the wins on Tuesday in other states outside of Ohio. Though Beshear won, Jewett said he was an incumbent. And though Virginia Democrats won, it gives them only a narrow advantage over the state’s Republicans.