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Ballot fight eyed on abortion rights

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

May 5, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — After the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a law to prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, abortion-rights supporters want to take the issue to voters.

Floridians Protecting Freedom, a newly formed group, will hold a news conference Monday in Tallahassee to begin a campaign to pass a constitutional amendment supporting abortion rights, according to a news release Friday.

“Floridians Protecting Freedom is launching a ballot initiative campaign to give Florida voters the chance to ensure their personal medical decisions are theirs and theirs alone to make,” the news release said. “The decision to have an abortion belongs to Floridians, their families, and those they trust — this campaign is an opportunity to ensure those protections remain in our state Constitution.”

The news release did not provide details of the proposal, but it comes after lawmakers and DeSantis this year approved the six-week limit — and as a legal battle plays out about whether a privacy clause in the Florida Constitution protects abortion rights.

Florida voters in 1980 approved a constitutional amendment that established state privacy rights. A 1989 Florida Supreme Court ruling set an initial precedent about the privacy clause protecting abortion rights, and subsequent decisions have followed that precedent.

But in a case stemming from a 2022 law that prevented abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, state Republican leaders are asking the Supreme Court to reject the legal precedents and find that the privacy clause does not protect abortion rights. Such a ruling would effectively allow the state to move forward with the new six-week limit.

The news release Friday indicated that representatives of groups such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida will take part in Monday’s announcement. State records show that Floridians Protecting Freedom was incorporated as a non-profit organization last month.

Ballot fights also have played out in other states since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision. The Supreme Court’s June ruling left abortion decisions to states.

Abortion-rights supporters have touted ballot victories in states such as Kansas and Michigan.

But backers of the Florida initiative will face challenges, including the fact that proposed constitutional amendments need approval from 60 percent of voters. Also, the proposal likely would face opposition from Florida’s powerful Republican leadership.

It would take millions of dollars to collect enough signatures to get the measure on the 2024 ballot. Supporters would need to submit 891,523 valid signatures by Feb. 1 and get Supreme Court approval of the proposed ballot wording.

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