Within hours of the court’s decision, access to abortion has emerged as a major fault line in the cultural battles that divide America. Thirteen conservative states with “trigger bans” will outlaw abortion within 30 days – and the procedure may soon be banned in several more. Lawmakers in heavily Democratic northern and western states are promising to become havens for women who want abortions but are barred from receiving them at home.
But in Florida, where residents of half a dozen relatively liberal urban counties are continually locked in political duels with the conservatives who dominate much of the rest of the state, the abortion rights debate does not is just getting started. This is an issue that will potentially have far-reaching consequences for millions of women in the South. The Sunshine State’s new abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy could become one of the most flexible in the region after the trigger laws and other unenforced abortion laws currently in front take effect. courts.
“It’s a place that we have to defend and protect, because it’s a place where people come to receive services,” said Senator Lauren Book (D), Senate Minority Leader. “They’ve been nibbling around the edges for a long time…but now it’s not hyperbolic to say that this is a very scary time for women in our state.”
How accessible abortion will stay in Florida could depend on how DeSantis plays out his competing political ambitions and the winds of the November election. Some Florida anti-abortion activists say they expect DeSantis, who is widely mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024, to push for additional restrictions or an outright ban on the procedure – a nod to his grassroots base here and to primary voters nationwide. But he could still face a competitive re-election for governor this fall in a state where he must also appeal to more moderate voices.
DeSantis describes himself as an opponent of abortion, but he rarely speaks about the issue publicly.
When a reporter asked Thursday how he would react if Roe vs. Wade was canceled, the governor ignored the question and talked about unrelated matters. On Friday, DeSantis released a statement saying “the prayers of millions have been answered” by the Supreme Court’s decision. But the statement provided little clue as to whether DeSantis’ plans attempt to further restrict abortion access in Florida.
Anthony Verdugo, president of the Christian Family Coalition of Florida, said he expects conservative voters in Florida and across the country to understand that DeSantis may not be able to deliver everything advocates are looking for. ‘abortion.
“The governor is going to move forward in a way that best reflects the wishes of the people of the state,” Verdugo said. “And things may be different in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia than in Florida, so I expect there to be a very pragmatic and practical approach.”
This year, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest. The law is set to go into effect July 1, but a state judge in Tallahassee is considering legal action from abortion rights advocates seeking to block the measure.
The state has 55 licensed abortion clinics and 80,000 abortions were performed last year. Recent statewide surveys indicate that a strong majority opposes further restriction of access.
Andrew Shirvell, director of anti-abortion group Florida Voice for the Unborn, said he received assurances from “high-level Governor DeSantis staffers” that the governor would summon state lawmakers for a session. special on access to abortion from the middle of the month. November, just after the midterm elections. The timing would mean DeSantis could still try to avoid taking a hard line on the issue during his re-election campaign.
“Everything is subject to change, and the ball is in his court, but I’m very confident based on the discussions I’ve had that the governor is completely on board with this,” Shirvell said.
However, other opponents of abortion rights in Florida remain skeptical that DeSantis will force the legislature to consider additional restrictions before the start of the 2023 legislative session in March.
John Stemberger, executive director of Florida Family Action, said he doubted DeSantis would call lawmakers into session before the start of regular session in the spring. He expects conservative lawmakers to introduce legislation either for a complete ban on abortion or for a “heartbeat bill” that would ban the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy. — the latter of which he said is most likely to be passed by GOP lawmakers.
“There is definitely going to be a bill coming. There’s no doubt about it,” said Stemberger, who added that he expects DeSantis to use his power as governor to push the legislature to act. “But I think the one that’s been talked about the most is the heartbeat bill.”
In addition to DeSantis’ re-election bid, voters will decide the makeup of Florida’s House and Senate in November. Republicans currently hold a 23-16 majority in the Senate and a 76-42 majority in the House of Representatives.
Although Republicans remain in favor of retaining both the governorship and their legislative majorities, Democrats say the Supreme Court’s decision has boosted their chances of making state elections more competitive this year.
Last month, after Supreme Court’s draft opinion leaked to media, thousands of abortion rights advocates converged for protests in cities across Florida. Demonstrations also erupted in several Florida cities on Friday evening.
“People are excited to bring pro-choice women, pro-choice Democrats back to Tallahassee because we’re on the front lines now,” said Minority Leader Book.
But veteran Florida political analyst Susan MacManus recently said she isn’t sure the abortion issue alone will be enough to overcome recent GOP gains in the state.
“There’s anger and the issue is a big driver for older women, but you just have to wonder how many voters there really are,” said MacManus, who noted Florida women backed the President Biden over former President Donald Trump in 2020. by a margin of just three percentage points, according to exit polls. “So the Democrats are betting everything on abortion, but I’m just not sure it’s going to be enough.”
Yet even if Democrats fail to win substantial gains in the legislature, Goodhue and other activists say they still don’t know if the new Senate leaders will want to go further than the 15-week ban in force in Florida.
State Senator Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican who represents the Naples area, is expected to be the next Senate Speaker if the GOP retains its majority in that chamber. Although publicly opposed to abortion, Goodhue and Book said Passidomo has in the past been reluctant to pass the most ambitious versions of anti-abortion legislation.
“The incoming Senate Speaker and I have had many, many conversations about this issue,” Book said. “She knows it’s important to me, and we certainly disagree on life versus choice, but I think we both agree there should be exemptions for the life, incest and human trafficking because it’s just human decency.”
Passidomo declined an interview request. But in a statement, Passidomo reiterated that she was “pro-life”.
“The Floridians I speak with daily overwhelmingly support the steps our legislature has taken to protect unborn life, promote adoption, and support parents who have chosen life,” Passidomo said.
At the Florida House, at least one Republican who backed the 15-week abortion ban now says he won’t support attempts to pass even broader restrictions. Chip LaMarca, who represents parts of heavily Democratic Broward County, voted for the 15-week ban but said in an interview he would not support legislation to further restrict access.
“It should be rare and exceptional,” he said of the abortion. “But I think someone should be able to make that choice up to 15 weeks.”
But in the coming weeks, activists on both sides of the abortion debate will be watching DeSantis more closely, who has a fairly limited number of close advisers and often does not foreshadow his political or legislative initiatives.
Most analysts agree that DeSantis probably doesn’t want this issue making headlines in Florida in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election.
In Florida, however, newly elected state lawmakers sit just weeks after the election. Shirvell said that’s why he received assurances from the governor’s office that a special session on abortion issues could be held as early as late November.
“I think he realizes, if he’s going to win the Republican primary [for president], whether it’s 2024 or 2028, he has to be in the lead on pro-life issues,” Shirvell said, adding that GOP primary voters may compare DeSantis to another potential GOP presidential candidate, the governor of Texas Greg Abbott. “Abbott will be able to stand up in a primary and list all the things he’s done for the unborn child in his condition, and DeSantis should kind of come back to an apology.”
Book said DeSantis’ approach to government thus far does not comfort her that the governor is hesitant about another battle over abortion rights.
“With the House, Senate and Governor all controlled by Republicans, they will do what they want because they can,” Book said.