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The entire country is getting involved in the campaign in Florida over abortion

Max Greenwood, Miami Herald on

Published in Political News

Florida may no longer be a battleground in the presidential race, but a new political fight over abortion is drawing interest from around the country and taking center stage in the Sunshine State.

Donors — both in Florida and nationally — are putting tens of millions of dollars behind a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize abortion up until fetal viability, generally understood to be around 24 weeks of pregnancy. Known as Amendment 4, the measure also includes exceptions past that mark for “the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.”

Opponents of the ballot measure, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Republican Party he commands, say it’s an ill-defined and overly broad effort to ensure abortion access up until a child is born.

For abortion rights activists, the proposed amendment represents the best chance for Florida voters to overturn a six-week abortion ban that took effect in May and stands among the strictest abortion laws in the country passed since Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case, was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago.

“I think this is one of the largest humanitarian issues on a ballot nationwide right now,” said Lauren Brenzel, the director of Floridians Protecting Freedom, the main group supporting Amendment 4. “We know we’re going to see opposition to this campaign. Our job is to not take our foot off the gas. We have to move full steam ahead; we have to make sure we’re communicating, not just in our state but nationwide, how important this is.”

In an election year with both a presidential and U.S. Senate race on the ballot, the effort to pass Amendment 4 stands out. While public polling shows Trump trouncing Biden in the presidential race in Florida, Amendment 4 has received broad support. A CBS News/YouGov survey released in May found support for the ballot measure hitting the 60% threshold it will need to pass in November. Another poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce conducted around the same time clocked support for the amendment at 61%.

Floridians Protecting Freedom has already reported raising more than $38 million from donors across the country.

Some of its biggest donors include Open Society Fund, a group founded by Democratic mega-donor George Soros, and Think Big America, a Chicago-based abortion rights nonprofit started last year by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, both of which have given $500,000 to the Yes on 4 campaign.

Its single largest donor so far is Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit that pumped $5 million into the Yes on 4 campaign last month.

The campaigns

Floridians Protecting Freedom began dispatching volunteers last month to knock on doors in hopes of persuading voters to back the proposal in November. And with money to spend, Brenzel said the group also plans to use its tens of millions of dollars to pay professional organizers and go up on TV and radio with ads supporting Amendment 4.

“We want to be on television, we want to be on people’s screens and we want to be on radio,” Brenzel said. “There are real stories of women that have been harmed by the unreasonable [abortion] restrictions that we have in this state.”

Florida has long been a refuge in the U.S. southeast for women seeking an abortion. But a decision by the Florida Supreme Court in April upholding a six-week abortion ban signed into law by DeSantis last year changed that. Many women seeking abortions must now travel to states like North Carolina and Virginia to undergo the procedure.

There’s still an active opposition to the ballot measure. Vote No On 4, the campaign against the amendment, formally launched a bilingual campaign this month to defeat the ballot initiative, and boasts a network of organizers and volunteers that it says is currently capable of reaching 80% of Florida voters.

The anti-Amendment 4 effort is also set to get some help from DeSantis and his allies. The governor is expected to use a newly formed political committee, Florida Freedom Fund, to target Amendment 4, as well as another proposed amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana in Florida.

The fight over those proposed amendments, he said, would receive top billing in Florida this year. The state is slated to play a less prominent role in the November presidential election than it has in past years; Donald Trump and his allies see Florida as friendly territory, while Biden’s campaign manager acknowledged last month that the state is no longer a political battleground.

“You think about presidential election years, it used to be all eyes in the universe would be on the state of Florida because it was such a close state. It’s not too much of a close state anymore,” DeSantis said at a recent press conference in response to a question from the Miami Herald.

 

But, he added, “you do have some of the constitutional ballot initiatives.”

To be sure, the campaign to sink the proposed amendment has some catching up to do in the fundraising game. Florida Voters Against Extremism, the main group involved in the anti-Amendment 4 effort, has reported raising less than $250,000 since it was formed last fall. More than half of that has come from Catholic dioceses in Florida and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

DeSantis’ Florida Freedom Fund has reported taking in a total of $121,400, with $100,000 of that coming from POB Ventures LLC, an Apopka-based company that lists itself as working in the alternative pharmaceuticals industry. Another $10,000 came from former U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania.

The goal of the effort to defeat the amendment over the next several months is to paint the proposal as a radical step to bypass any reasonable abortion restrictions. Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for the Vote No on 4 campaign and DeSantis, argued that the language of the amendment would allow women to have abortions without the approval of a licensed medical doctor. Minors, she said, would be able to undergo abortions without their parents’ consent.

“Our campaign is focused on informing all Floridians that Amendment 4 is deceptive and dangerous, giving broad abortion approval rights to non-doctor clinical staff, allowing abortions for minors without parental consent, and not only legalizing abortion during the first 6 months, but the entire pregnancy,” Fenske said in a statement.

Supporters of the amendment have said such criticism is misleading, arguing that health care providers are regulated by the state. The language of the amendment itself also notes that it would “not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.”

Partisan politics

The amendment’s supporters have gone to great pains to try to divorce the ballot measure from party politics. There are over 900,000 more active registered Republican voters in Florida now than Democrats, according to state data, meaning that proposed amendment will likely need at least some bipartisan support if it’s to have any chance of passing in November.

Yet Democratic candidates across the state have sought to tie their political fortunes to Amendment 4, hoping that voters motivated by the prospect of protecting abortion access will turn out in force to cast their ballot in favor of both the amendment and the Democrats who support it.

Just a few weeks after the Florida Supreme Court allowed the state’s six-week abortion ban to go into effect, Biden traveled to Tampa to assail the law as a cruel attempt to limit women’s rights. In May, as the six-week ban formally entered into force, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered a speech in Jacksonville where she cast Democrats as the ones who “trust women” to make decisions about their own bodies.

Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the likely Democratic nominee to take on U.S. Sen. Rick Scott in November, has also made abortion rights a central pillar of her campaign. While she’s insisted that passing Amendment 4 isn’t a partisan issue, she’s also argued that voting in favor of the amendment and electing Democratic lawmakers should go hand in hand.

“[Voters] have an opportunity to enshrine into the state’s constitution this right, this fundamental right for women,” Mucarsel-Powell said at a stop in Fort Lauderdale last week. “But it will mean absolutely nothing if they re-elect Rick Scott, send him back to the Senate and then he passes a national abortion ban.”

“Make no mistake,” she added. “Freedom is on the ballot this November, and if we want to stop these extreme bans, we have to stop the extremists who are pushing them.”

Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida, said that while there’s a chance that Amendment 4 will help boost Democratic voter turnout this fall, it’s unlikely to be “enough to pull Joe Biden across the finish line” in November.

“I don’t know that’s it’s going to have that big of an impact on these top-of-the-ticket races,” Jewett said. “The reality is, in order [for Amendment 4] to get to 60%, it’s going to have to get broad support. That’s all to say that for the abortion rights folks — they’re not going to get to 60% without Republicans.”


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

 

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