Protesters gather at the Historic Florida Capitol building following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned abortion protections under Roe v. Wade June 24, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown
A petition drive to enact a state constitutional amendment protecting the right to abortion services got underway Monday, but organizers face daunting odds to make it on the 2024 ballot.
They acknowledged as much during a news conference in Tallahassee.
“This is a big campaign, and we have lots of individuals and organizations that are excited to be working on this,” said Kara Gross, legislative director for the ACLU of Florida.
“We have paid petition gatherers and volunteer petition gatherers that are going to be working on this for the next few months and we’ll be able to achieve that goal because we know this is what Floridians want, this is what Floridians have been asking for,” she continued.
“Our elected leaders have not been responsive to the needs of Floridians, and Floridians are excited to have that control, that power, back in their own hands so they can make these decisions for themselves.”
Also participating are Florida Rising, Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida, and Planned Parenthood organizations throughout Florida.
They have until Feb. 1 to gather nearly 900,000 signatures, representing 8% of the votes cast in at least half of the congressional district races during the preceding presidential election year.
Once organizers collect 25% of the required signatures, the state attorney general (Republican Ashley Moody) and state Financial Impact Estimating Conference will review the petition language. Next, the Florida Supreme Court will decide whether it belongs on the ballot.
The criteria for that decision are that the language covers a single subject only; the title and summary that would appear on the ballot convey what the amendment would do; and that the measure would not violate the U.S. Constitution.
The justices can sometimes be picky — they denied ballot access to the 2022 ballot for two marijuana-related citizens’ initiatives, for example.
The abortion initiative appears simple enough:
Ballot Title: Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion
Ballot Summary: 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. This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.
Article and Section Being Created or Amended: Creates — Article 1, New Section
“Limiting government interference with abortion. — Except as provided in Article X, Section 22, 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 provision mentioned created an exemption to minors’ privacy right requiring parental notification of the child’s intent to seek an abortion but allowing the child to seek a judge’s waiver of that requirement.
The language was carefully vetted, Gross said, to be “very clear and very precise. A lot of legal experts have been looking at this language and working on this language to make sure it is the most clear and concise and simple language that is able to get us to our goal.”
Abortion is already before the Supreme Court in a case testing the justices’ willingness to overturn the court’s 1989 precedent establishing a right to abortion under the Florida Constitution’s privacy clause. But this court, bolstered by conservative appointees by Gov. Ron DeSantis, has been willing to abandon precedents in the past.
That case involves the 15-week abortion ban the Legislature imposed in 2022. During its recently ended regular session, the Legislature changed the deadline to six weeks following the last menstrual period, before most patients realize they are pregnant. DeSantis has signed that bill into law, but it’s contingent on whether the justices overturn their privacy precedent.
Andrew Shirvell, executive director of the Tallahassee-based anti-abortion group Florida Voice for the Unborn, issued a press release denouncing the “deranged quest to enshrine abortion on demand in our state’s governing document via a citizens’ petition initiative.”
“In the months ahead, Florida Voice for the Unborn will draw attention to the radical nature of this proposal, and we will do everything we possibly can to dissuade Florida voters from signing the petition,” he said.
During the news conference, Dr. Shelly Tien, an abortion provider who is a participant in the Supreme Court case, described cases of doomed pregnancies in which the patients were denied abortion care because their doctors feared prosecution. One nearly died.
“The reality is that restricting abortion access is a public health threat to all Floridians — not just pregnant individuals but their families and their loved ones,” Tien said.
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