Abortion in Florida: Why voters should vote on the law

If they really want to capitalize politically on the U.S. Supreme Court decision that returned abortion regulation to the statesFlorida Democrats should speed up the cumbersome and costly petition process to change the state’s Constitution.

A constitutional amendment to protect women’s choices might be unnecessary. Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper’s ruling blocking enforcement of the new law banning abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation could be upheld by the Florida Supreme Court. But don’t count on it.

Unlike many states, Florida has a privacy provision in its Constitution that has historically been shown to protect abortion choice.

“Every natural person has the right to be left alone and free from governmental intrusion into his privacy, except as provided herein,” says the relevant part of Article 1, Section 23. The liberals too Sensitive people will wince at the word “her,” but the provision also applies to those whom “woke” Democrats consciously prefer to call “pregnant people.”

Demonstrators hold signs outside the historic Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. during a rally to protest the overturning of Roe vs. Wade on Friday, June 24, 2022.

In a ruling on parental notification when underage girls seek abortions, the state court ruled that “every natural person” means exactly what it says — such as teenage girls. “We can conceive of few more personal or private decisions regarding his body,” Judge Leander Shaw wrote in that 1989 decision.

But that was then. Abortion was then subject to Roe v. Wade of the United States Supreme Court in 1973, which created a right to choose. And the Florida court was much more liberal.

A woman holds a Bible during a pro-life rally on the steps of the historic Capitol on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

It is now, and the nation’s highest court has backed away from Roe, allowing states to effectively restrict or ban abortion. And our state court is dominated by conservative judges who might not read our Constitution the way Shaw does.

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So there’s a very good chance Cooper’s decision will be overturned and the 15-week limit will stand.

Polls showed strong majorities nationwide want to leave the Roe Rules in place and we have seen a massive political pushback against the new Supreme Court edict. Whether this backlash is strong enough to amend the Florida Constitution in 2024 is a question worthy of a statewide referendum.

That’s why pro-choice forces should find a really good lawyer, write a very explicit petition stating that medical choices are not the government’s business, and start collecting signatures from voters.

Changing the state’s founding document by public petition takes time, organization, and money. Successful petition campaigns have been funded by wealthy donors — medicinal marijuana and a short-lived high-speed train warrant, for example — or strong organizational support, like the minimum wage amendment or a ban on smoke inside.

It takes 891,589 voter signatures, or 8% participation in the last presidential election, to put an idea on the ballot. He must survive a Supreme Court hearing to see if the proposal meets the single topic and ballot summary requirements. And then he has to get 60% public support at the polls.

You won’t find it in law, but any petition initiative can be twisted by state legislators in its implementation. When a petition asked to stop the gerrymandering of district lines, lawmakers went ahead and cheated on the next redistribution. When voters said to designate a certain share of development taxes for conservation, lawmakers went ahead and did whatever they wanted with the money.

Instead of staging noisy street protests, pro-choice forces should craft an amendment so clearly that even Florida lawmakers can’t say more about its implementation. Maybe something like, “Listen, stupid, the provisions of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision will remain in effect for Florida residents.”

Then every candidate for every office in 2024 would have to take a stand, and voters could finally decide whether privacy includes medical matters.

Bill Cotterel

Bill Cotterell is a retired journalist from the Democratic capital of Tallahassee who writes a column twice a week. He can be contacted at bcotterell@tallahassee.com

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