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Editorial: Court sides with Florida's extreme abortion ban, but at least voters now have a voice

The Miami Herald Editorial Board, The Miami Herald on

Published in Political News

In a pair of rulings on Monday, the Florida Supreme Court took power away from women to make reproductive choices while allowing voters, potentially, to restore it.

It was a mixed bag, but at least the rulings mean the people of Florida will have the chance to weigh in on the issue of abortion in the state.

In one ruling, the state court upheld the state’s 15-week ban, which means a more draconian, six-week ban can go into effect in 30 days. In another, issued Monday as well, the court also cleared the way for abortion access, Amendment 4, to appear on the November ballot. Constitutional amendments require 60% approval to pass.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody failed to prove that the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment to keep abortion legal was flawed. Moody had argued against Amendment 4 — though some 900,000 Floridians signed petitions to add the measure to the November ballot.

The state’s highest court, which must analyze the wording of proposed constitutional amendments, found the wording of the amendment is clear and unambiguous.

With Monday’s ruling, it became clear that not even the most conservative state Supreme Court we have seen in recent history bought Moody’s argument that the ballot language was too vague. Gov. Ron DeSantis, an abortion-rights opponent, appointed five of the seven justices.

Even more importantly, the ruling allows Florida voters to speak on an issue that has been discussed and debated in this country for decades. It’s the right thing to do, even if the justices themselves might be personally opposed to enshrining abortion rights into the state constitution.

Chief Justice Carlos G. Muñiz wrote that Amendment 4 would prevent the state from enacting laws “to protect an entire class of human beings from private harm.” But he added: “Under our system of government, it is up to the voters — not this Court — to decide whether such a rule is consistent with the deepest commitments of our political community.”

 

The ballot summary reads in part that “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.” Moody had argued that the word “viability” — the ability of a fetus to survive outside the womb, usually at 24 weeks of pregnancy — could have more than one meaning. She argued the wording was too complicated for voters to understand.

Republicans are afraid of this measure because they know Florida’s recent abortion bans go against popular opinion, at least according to recent polling.

A November poll by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab indicates voters favor the abortion rights amendment — and the survey included a lot of Republicans. The poll found that 62% of those asked supported the amendment to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. That’s a critical level of support: The threshold for passage of a constitutional amendment in Florida is 60% of votes cast. More than half of Republicans surveyed — 53% — said they’d vote for the measue.

This landmark ruling shows just how out of step Florida Republican lawmakers and DeSantis are on this issue. In 2022, they passed a 15-week restriction and then, emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, they passed a six-week ban in 2023. On Monday, the Supreme Court found the state constitution’s privacy protections do not apply to abortion rights.

In Florida, the abortion issue has for too long been decided based on extreme views held by members of the Legislature. At six weeks, most women don’t even know they are pregnant.

Monday’s rulings legitimized Florida’s out-of-touch approach to women’s reproductive rights in some ways but also gave the decision back to voters, where it has belonged all along.

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©2024 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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