Florida Court forces near-total abortion ban on the people
Participants wave signs as they walk back to Orlando City Hall during the March for Abortion Access, October 2, 2021. The Court ruling puts in place a near total ban on abortion now, with abortions illegal after six weeks of pregnancy. A second ruling by the same court allows a ballot initiative that could restore abortion rights. | Chasity Maynard/Orlando Sentinel via AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—The Ron DeSantis hand-picked Florida Supreme Court demolished decades of healthcare rights yesterday by ruling that the right of privacy enshrined in the state constitution does not extend to abortion, greenlighting the near total abortion ban signed last year by the right-wing GOP governor. For now, abortion will be illegal in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy when many women have no idea that they are even pregnant.

But in a separate ruling promulgate at the same time, the justices yielded to the demands of Florida voters that they be allowed to expand access to abortion via a state constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot. Right-wing Republicans fiercely resisted that, hoping to force their minority rule on the majority of Florida voters who favor abortion rights.

As a result of the ballot initiative, Democrats expect huge numbers to turn out to push back against the MAGA abortion ban, as they have in state after state since the Supreme Court ended Roe. In fact, dealing another blow to the rightwing MAGA forces, the possibility is now there that Florida can go from red to blue in the coming November elections. National Democrats are expected to pour additional resources now into the Florida elections.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled 4 to 3 that a constitutional amendment that would enshrine the right to abortion “before viability,” usually around 24 weeks, could be on the November ballot. In effect, the measure would restore abortion rights in Florida to where they were before the Supreme Court of the Unites States took way the rights guaranteed under Roe.

The ruling that puts the near total ban on abortion in place now transforms Florida into one of the worst places in the country when it comes to protection of women’s rights.

It’s not just Democrats, however, who see trouble for Republicans now in November in Florida. Even Florida Republican analysts admits the ballot initiative will drive Democratic voters to the polls this fall.

The court ruled 7-0 to put the referendum on the fall ballot. The referendum OK elated Democrats, abortion rights groups and the Service Employees’ state health care affiliate.

That’s because abortion rights supporters won all prior referendums—in red, blue and swing states–since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision two years ago eliminated the federal constitutional right to abortion.

And all those votes, even in mid-summer’s heat in pinkish Ohio and deep-red Kansas, prompted heavy turnouts among progressive pro-abortion voters—and pro-abortion wins.

Democrats are campaigning for rerun wins in Florida and elsewhere, figuring the pro-abortion voters will also punch Democratic ballots in swing states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania and in states like New York, where a heavy turnout could swing U.S. House races—and control—back to them.

“This initiative is to protect the most basic freedoms for all Floridians, reclaim critical reproductive healthcare rights and privacy, and stop the dangerous six-week abortion ban here in Florida,” SEIU 1199 Healthcare’s Florida affiliate said.

“1199SEIU applauds the court’s decision to let the voters have their say on the six-week ban, which is an immensely intrusive and extreme healthcare policy. No politician or law should meddle, control and/or deny a woman’s deeply personal reproductive healthcare rights.

“As caregivers, we are committed to rolling back the unsafe bans forced on Floridians by extremism in Tallahassee. We encourage all Floridians to join us as we fight for our healthcare rights and privacy. And on November 5, let’s make history together by voting ‘yes’ on Amendment 4.”

The Florida referendum is particularly important in light of the abortion ban after six weeks, a limit imposed before most women even know they’re pregnant. Right-wing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-gerrymandered state legislature gleefully enacted the ban. It takes effect May 1, overriding the state’s current ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Amendment takes precedence

The constitutional amendment on the ballot in the nation’s third most-populous state would override both.  It would leave the abortion decision up to the patient and the physician.

“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,” the referendum language reads.

Other states holding pro-abortion referendums this fall include—so far—New York, as part of an Equal Rights Amendment, and Maryland as a constitutional amendment. There are 17 abortion-related referendums in 14 other states, Ballotpedia reports, with two in Colorado (one for, one against) and three in Nebraska (one for, two against).

Montana’s Republican Attorney General tried to halt a referendum signature campaign there on procedural grounds, but its state Supreme Court, 6-1. gave the voters’ drive the go-ahead.

“I accept it as a given that, if the abortion measure is on the Florida ballot in November, that it will undoubtedly increase turnout of abortion rights supporters, who tend to be mostly Democrats,” Florida Republican strategist Justin Sayfie told The Hill.

He admitted the referendum would lead to “enhanced turnout” for Democrats. He said Republicans would be left floundering, either fighting for bans or trying divert voters to other issues, notably immigration, a GOP hot button and red meat for the party’s Trumpite and radical right base.

Abortion advocates and health care providers are also looking towards the November vote in the Sunshine State. But in the meantime, they said, abortion seekers will suffer.

Some already have under the state’s current 15-week ban, supporters said. One was a 14-year-old rape victim. Another was a woman sent home from the hospital. When she developed complications, her doctor was only permitted to perform the abortion when she came close to death from sepsis.

The post-six-week ban “will undoubtedly cause people across the state to suffer,” said Kelly Flynn CEO of a Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville. “So many of our patients already struggled to access an abortion under a 15-week ban. Now, the lives of even more Floridians will be in danger as basic health care is pushed further out of reach. It is heart-wrenching we will be forced to turn countless patients away,”

Abortion-seekers “deserve compassionate and timely abortion care in their home communities. This November we will have the opportunity to fight back against this devastating ruling at the ballot box by voting to enshrine the right to abortion in the Florida state Constitution.”

“As a healthcare provider, I know how important it is for patients to have the ability to control their own bodies and make their own health care decisions,” said Dr. Robyn Schickler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

“These justices have ushered in a dangerous era for Florida. Allowing a six-week abortion ban to go into effect puts the health and lives of patients at grave risk in our state. We look forward to the November election where voters can vote yes on Amendment 4 and put an end to this invasive government interference in our healthcare decisions.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.