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Florida Supreme Court Abortion Ruling Divides DeSantis Justices

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The Florida Supreme Court sided with abortion-rights advocates on Monday, approving the advancement of a ballot initiative that, if approved, would amend the state constitution to safeguard access to abortion.

The ruling on the hot-button topic comes down in a critical swing state as the 2024 presidential election is heating up.

But the 4-3 decision divided Governor Ron DeSantis’ appointees. The majority opinion stated that the proposed ballot measure complies with state law, and two justices appointed by DeSantis, Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz and Justice John Couriel, agreed. Dissidents were three of DeSantis’ appointees.

A coalition of abortion rights organizations supported the initiative, which aims to maintain the legality of the procedure up until the fetus can typically survive outside the uterus, which happens at about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday also maintained the state’s abortion prohibition, which prohibits the procedure beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy. The ruling permits DeSantis’s ban on abortions, which last year lasted six weeks, to go into effect the following month.

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But the 15-week and six-week bans would be lifted if the ballot initiative received 60% of the vote in November, Newsweek noted.

Muñiz wrote in the majority opinion that the decision to allow the measure to head to the ballot in November was based on the “constitutional principle that ‘all political power is inherent in the people.'”

“The proposed amendment would constitutionalize restrictions on the people’s authority to use law to protect an entire class of human beings from private harm,” the chief justice wrote. “It would cast into doubt the people’s authority even to enact protections that are prudent, compassionate, and mindful of the complexities involved.”

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“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,” he added.

The proposed amendment’s wording, according to the dissenting justices, was not clear enough to be on the ballot in November.

DeSantis nominated Justice Jamie Grosshans to the bench in 2020, and in her opinion, she stated that although Floridians “have the right to amend their constitution… there are constitutional and statutory requirements that must be satisfied in order for an amendment to reach the ballot.”

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“Holding a sponsor to those requirements is far from what the majority characterizes as a ‘stranglehold on the amendment process,'” she continued. “Consequently, I find the ballot summary conclusively defective for failing to inform the voter of the material legal effects of the amendment, including the substantial effect this amendment could have on article I, section 2 of our constitution.”

Abortion rights groups were not happy with the ruling.

Reproductive Free for All said Florida’s Supreme Court “was right to let the ballot initiative go before voters—and it’s a good thing they did because voters will need to head to the polls to undo the damage the court is causing with its decision to allow an extreme ban on abortion to go into effect.”

“This is devastating news for access to abortion care in the state and the entire South,” Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All, said in the statement. “It has never been more essential that the right to abortion be enshrined in the state constitution to protect access for Floridians and that we elect federal champions to protect the right to abortion at the national level.”

Voters in Florida will have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed amendment in the November election. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to overturn the protections for women outlined in Roe v. Wade, abortion rights have emerged as a winning issue for Democrats.

Reproductive rights measures are also on the November ballots in Maryland and New York, and proponents are still working to get them included in several more states.

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