Here’s one way Floridians could protect abortion rights | Editorial
With Roe v. Wade in jeopardy, abortions are likely to become more difficult to get in Florida.
Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in Washington. A draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a Politico report released Monday.
Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in Washington. A draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a Politico report released Monday. [ JOSE LUIS MAGANA | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 3, 2022|Updated May 3, 2022

The Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and end a half century of abortion rights in the United States, according to a draft opinion leaked Monday. Roe and later cases affirmed a woman’s right to control her own body and have an abortion up to the viability of the fetus. If Roe is overturned, the right to abortion will become an issue for elected politicians, either in Congress or, more likely, the states. That will create a patchwork across the nation where some states have liberal abortion laws, even more expansive than Roe’s guidelines — and others, perhaps a majority, will effectively ban abortion altogether. That’s the reality.

What about Florida? Gov. Ron DeSantis has already signed a bill that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, and the Republican-dominated Legislature won’t likely stop there. A total ban — or nearly — is easy to imagine. One counter measure is the ballot box. Elect representatives who support a woman’s right to choose. But the Republican stranglehold on power in Tallahassee makes that unlikely.

A majority of Floridians support abortion rights. A Pew poll found that 56 percent of Floridians believe abortion should be legal in most cases. A University of North Florida survey from earlier this year found that 54 percent strongly or somewhat disapproved of banning abortions at 15 weeks. That number would likely — and should — grow if the state contemplated banning all abortions. The right to control your own body is a fundamental human right, one that shouldn’t be subject to political impulse.

So what to do? One possibility is to amend the state Constitution. Legislators won’t protect a woman’s right to choose, so citizens can put a question on the ballot to enshrine the right in the Constitution. The state Constitution already says, “All natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law and have inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend life and liberty, to pursue happiness, to be rewarded for industry, and to acquire, possess and protect property.” Many details would need to be worked out, but an amendment could specify that one of those inalienable rights is control of one’s body, the ability to obtain an abortion.

Changing the Constitution won’t be easy. Abortion foes will fight hard against such a move. Even if the question get on a ballot and then receives the 60 percent of the vote needed to pass, some Republican lawmakers would find ways to water it down, as they have with other successful citizen amendment petitions they didn’t like.

The Constitution shouldn’t be amended willy-nilly. But voters in recent years have agreed that felons should regain the right to vote, a fundamental right in a democracy. They also voted to raise the state minimum wage to $15, which many of their own elected leaders would not have supported. Sometimes the will of the people differs from the very people they elect to represent them. And sometimes, voters can take for granted the rights they have — two-thirds of Americans alive today have never lived in a world without Roe.

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If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, 26 states including Florida are certain or likely to ban abortion, according to the pro-abortion rights think tank the Guttmacher Institute. North Carolina would likely be the closest state to Florida where abortion would still be legal. Currently a woman in Florida drives fewer than 16 miles on average to find an abortion provider. A ban would push the average distance to 583 miles, according to Guttmacher.

There are 4.6 million women of reproductive age in Florida, and the state reported 79,648 abortions last year. The number of abortions in Florida peaked more than 15 years ago, and the national rate has been trending downward for years, good news no matter how anyone views abortion. In the best of worlds, abortions would be legal and available but rare. And “legal” should not depend on who won the last election.

But this is not about numbers or distances. It is about basic rights. It is appropriate to amend the state Constitution to enumerate human rights, and a woman’s right to control her own body fits that definition. Having an abortion is one of the most difficult decisions a woman can make. But it is her choice, not the state’s. State lawmakers should protect, not endanger, this right. If they won’t, the people should do it themselves.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.