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National Democrats gather to mobilize on abortion, warn of threats to IVF and contraception

Anthony Man, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in Political News

Democrats highlighted searing personal stories and delivered impassioned political broadsides Tuesday as they sought to capitalize on a pair of abortion rulings delivered a day earlier by the Florida Supreme Court.

And, they warned of even more fallout from court rulings and legislative actions.

First, they said, is the ban on almost all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, a Florida law that goes into effect in four weeks, on May 1, as a result of one of the state Supreme Court rulings.

Next, they asserted, “right-wing MAGA extremist politicians” will stop families from using in vitro fertilization, or IVF. After that, they declared, Republicans would move on to restricting access to contraception.

“Florida’s six-week abortion ban is cruel, it’s dangerous and it’s extreme. Florida’s six-week abortion ban will cost lives and it will hurt the health, the safety and the well-being of the women of this great state. Florida’s six-week abortion ban is an assault on freedom. It’s an assault on liberty and it’s an assault on the dignity of the women of this state,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said in Fort Lauderdale.

Jeffries, who would become House speaker if Democrats win control in the November elections, was in South Florida on the first day of a multi-pronged effort by Democrats to use the Florida Supreme Court abortion decisions to mobilize voter turnout this fall.

“Make no mistake about it: Freedom itself is on the ballot on November 5th in Florida,” Jeffries said, decrying what he said has been the impact of “extremists in Tallahassee, extremists on the Florida Supreme Court, extremists in Washington, and those who were put on the United States Supreme Court by MAGA extremists.”

Democrats on offense

The Democrats were on the offensive Tuesday in Florida on multiple fronts — something they’ve rarely managed to pull off in recent years as their political fortunes have gone into freefall.

Jeffries and seven other Democratic members of Congress, from Florida and elsewhere, held a field hearing to alert people to the coming six-week abortion ban and the referendum on the November election ballot that would reverse that ban — if voters approve enshrining abortion rights in the Florida Constitution.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, organized the hearing not knowing exactly when or how the Florida Supreme Court would rule.

On Monday it OK’d a ban on almost all abortions after 15 weeks, a decision that automatically greenlights the coming six-week restriction. The Supreme Court also allowed the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

In a statement issued Tuesday by the White House, President Joe Biden said the Florida Supreme Court’s “extreme decision puts desperately needed medical care even further out of reach for millions of women in Florida and across the South…. Florida’s bans — like those put forward by Republican elected officials across the country — are putting the health and lives of millions of women at risk.”

And the administration dispatched Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to Fort Lauderdale to join the abortion-rights effort. “Women in America should not be living in medical apartheid,” Becerra said.

In a Biden campaign conference call, campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said the six-week ban could help mobilize voters.

“We do see more and more Americans sort of standing up and saying and declaring that they don’t want politicians interfering with some of these most personal decisions between them and their doctors, them and their families that we know are really critical,” she said.

That doesn’t mean Florida is seen as fertile political territory for Biden. “In terms of just Florida and the campaign, look, we’re clear-eyed about how hard it will be to win Florida,” Chavez Rodriguez said. “But we also know that Trump does not have it in the bag.”

Testimony

At the hearing, a range of witnesses brought forward personal stories about anything that interferes with an individual’s decision on whether to have an abortion, or on other reproductive health issues, such as IVF.

Deborah Dorbert, of Lakeland, described her harrowing experience that began with what seemed like a routine visit to her physician the day before Thanksgiving in 2022 when she was pregnant.

“Everything was going smoothly with my pregnancy besides experiencing the normal symptoms of morning sickness and being tired,” she said. The technician performing the screening had a troubled look on her face and summoned the obstetrician. The doctor informed Dorbert that her baby’s kidneys didn’t develop, meaning that the child would only live a short time after birth.

Despite medical advice, she said doctors told her the pregnancy couldn’t be ended because of the 2022 state law banning most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, and she was told she would have to carry the baby to full term. “The next few months were the hardest times of my life,” she testified.

At 37 weeks, labor was induced. “I held him in my arms and he passed away after 94 minutes,” she said.

“Even though the baby had a life-threatening condition, until my life was on the line, I couldn’t get induced,” she said.

The condition meant there was no amniotic fluid, making the pregnancy extremely painful because there was no cushion for the fetus in her body. The effects are with the family almost a year and a half later. “We’ve all really struggled with our mental health,” she said.

Sandra Elidor, a Broward resident, turned to IVF because of endometriosis, in which uterine-like tissue grows outside the uterus and makes pregnancy difficult. When the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in February that embryos created through IVF should be considered children, it created nationwide turmoil, Elidor said.

“Many of us were scared,” she said, and some stopped IFV treatments.

Decisions on IVF “should not be the government’s decision to make,” she said.

Dr. Ian Bishop, an obstetrician-gynecologist and assistant professor and director of family planning at the University of Miami Health System, warned the new restrictions would cost lives and impact the health care of many Floridians. (Bishop said he was speaking for himself, not the university.)

He said he is “compelled by my conscience to provide abortion” services to women who need them. But being “squeezed” between state law and his medical responsibility to care for his patients has changed his practice. “Nor being able to help the person in front of me as I hold their hand is devastating,” he said.

 

Bishop also told the lawmakers that federal protections for abortion rights are needed. “My patients need your help.”

Bishop said women would “absolutely” die as a result of Florida’s ban on most abortions after six weeks if women are forced to continue potentially dangerous pregnancies.

Bishop said the restrictions would have “profound implications for medical education.” Some prospective doctors will go to other states for training, not wanting their education limited.

Democrats framed the issue as one of “extreme Republicans” meddling in decisions that should be between women and their doctors.

“Right-wing MAGA extremist politicians in Tallahassee inflicted an abortion ban on Florida women,” Wasserman Schultz. “They want to insert themselves in our most personal difficult health care decisions.”

The audience of about 125 people was mostly invited Democrats and congressional staffers. Besides the members of Congress — including Floridians Kathy Castor, Maxwell Frost, Jared Moskowitz and Darren Soto — several Democratic state senators and representatives were present.

The all-Democratic congressional hearing was technically official government business. Jeffries and Wasserman Schultz said it wasn’t a partisan effort.

“Our concern at this moment is not electoral politics,” Jeffries said.

Faulting Republicans

Democrats faulted former President Donald Trump for nominating the Supreme Court justices who provided the votes needed for the court’s conservative bloc to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that had guaranteed abortion rights in the U.S. for five decades.

“‘Donald Trump cannot run, cannot hide from the fact that he appointed three justices with the intent that he achieved by overturning Roe v. Wade and tearing away women’s reproductive freedom and forcing the government in the midst of deeply private personal health care decisions,” Wasserman Schultz said.

U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Parkland, pointed to the three most recent state Supreme Court justices appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

They voted to uphold the ban on almost all abortions after six weeks, and voted against allowing the proposed constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot.

He said that is “telling about where the Supreme Court is going,” and suggested voters remember, and express their disapproval of the justices when they are up for retention votes in the November election.

Republicans respond

Republicans dismissed the Democrats’ predictions of doom.

“We agree with the three women on the Court who got it right in dissent. This amendment is misleading and will confuse voters. The language hides the amendment’s true purpose of mandating that abortions be permitted up to the time of birth,” Julia Friedland, the governor’s deputy press secretary, said via email.

Evan Power, chair of the Florida Republican Party, said Democrats are the ones with an extreme agenda.

“The only thing extreme about Florida Republicans is the amount of winning we do. This was an issue in 2022 and Republicans won by record numbers. This is just a sad attempt for Democrats to try and fake enthusiasm for their radical agenda that has seen them be on the losing end of a shift” of voters moving away from the Democratic Party and toward the Republican Party, Power said via text.

Florida state House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said the proposed constitutional amendment is not what it seems.

“Abortion activists have spent millions putting an extreme amendment on Florida’s ballot,” he said in a statement. “Amendment 4 would make Florida’s abortion laws more liberal than countries throughout Europe and eliminate existing laws that most people on both sides of the abortion issue agree on — like parental consent for minors and any restrictions on late-term abortions. We are confident that when the people of Florida learn what this amendment does, they will vote NO on Amendment 4.”

Democrats said Renner was exaggerating the effects of the amendments.

State Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, said Monday in a news conference after the Supreme Court’s rulings that people need to “have the conversation about how extreme this amendment truly is. … This amendment rolls us back to the dark ages before advancements in science and medicine before Roe vs. Wade. It is broad. It is far-reaching. It is dangerous. It is wrong for Florida.”

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Central Florida Democrat, predicted voters — especially women — would respond differently in November.

“The Florida Supreme Court slammed the door shut on reproductive freedom for millions of Florida women,” he said. “But then they handed the keys over to women to decide in November.”

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(Staff writer Abigail Hasebroock contributed to this report.)

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©2024 South Florida Sun Sentinel. Visit at sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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