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Democrats leverage abortion in hopes of flipping Florida

Voters will consider a pro-abortion amendment in November

Biden-Harris 2024 campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez Associated Press/Photo by Lynne Sladky, File

Democrats leverage abortion in hopes of flipping Florida

In an April 1 memo, President Joe Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, made the case for prioritizing pro-abortion messaging in the president’s reelection bid. And the crux of this strategy centers on Florida.

“From a cruel and dangerous abortion ban and overt attacks on seniors to soaring costs caused by Republican policies, Donald Trump’s platform is uniquely unpopular with the voters who will decide this election in the Sunshine State—and our campaign is primed and ready to seize on the opportunity,” Chavez Rodriguez wrote.

Republican candidates have won in Florida in eight of the last 12 presidential elections. In 2020, Florida was the only battleground state where former President Donald Trump expanded his margin of victory. Roughly 58 percent of adults in the state consider themselves Republican, and 33 percent more identify as moderate, according to Pew Research. Republicans hold 20 of the state’s 28 congressional districts, along with both legislative chambers, the governor’s mansion, the secretary of state’s office, and the office of the attorney general.

But conservatives are sounding the alarm that Chavez Rodriguez and the Democrats are right: A close battle over abortion is coming to the state in November.

Also on April 1, the Florida Supreme Court voted 4-3 to approve the language of Amendment 4, a citizen-led ballot initiative that would add a right to abortion to the state’s constitution. Pro-life organizations such as SBA Pro-Life America and Florida Voters Against Extremism asked the court to block the amendment, arguing that the text was misleading.

It reads, “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.” The text also includes an exception that parents of minors seeking abortions must be notified.

“This is abortion-on-demand for any health reason,” John Stemberger, president of Liberty Council Action, told WORLD. “The problem with the amendment itself is that it’s inherently deceiving. The first part talks about the state regulating abortion after viability, but then the second sentence goes on to say that an abortion can be had for any health reason.”

Stemberger, formerly the president of Florida Family Council, has advocated for pro-life measures in the state for roughly 36 years. He warned pro-life lawmakers and advocates not to dismiss Amendment 4, which must win 60 percent of votes in November to pass.

Campaigning in the Sunshine State is expensive. It is home to 10 separate media markets, three of which are among the largest in the country. The pro-abortion political action committee Floridians Protecting Freedom began a signature drive last May. The organizations involved spent roughly $16 million to collect 900,000 signatures to add the amendment to November’s ballot.

“In Florida, between now and November, this is for all the marbles,” Stemberger said. “Are we going to permanently become a pro-life state or a pro-abortion state? This is a tough battle. The other side will raise millions of dollars. We will also raise millions as well.”

Progressive ballot initiatives have succeeded in Florida in recent years. The state legalized marijuana in 2016, and voters also passed a ballot measure to ban offshore drilling in 2018.

“We are a conservative state in that we believe the culture wars we’ve been presented with are unfortunate and excessive,” former state Rep. Carlos Lacasa, a Republican, told WORLD. “But unfortunately, Gov. [Ron] DeSantis has branded us with a misleading picture. Most of us in Florida are centrist.”

Lacasa supports Amendment 4 and describes himself as more of a “pro-privacy Republican” rather than pro-abortion. He thinks the measure can easily pass, especially with a backdrop of a statewide law that protects unborn life at six weeks’ gestation.

“I think that we already have the 60 percent we need to pass,” Lacasa said. “A six-week ban rather than a 15-week ban will bring out voters who feel that that is excessive and who otherwise would have been satisfied with a 15-week ban.”

According to a Gallup poll from 2023, 34 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances, and 51 percent believe it should be legal under certain circumstances. Opinions vary by trimester, with few Americans endorsing late-term abortions. Stephen Craig, a political science professor at the University of Florida, says public support for the pro-life movement has been in decline since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“Be careful what you wish for, if you’re on the pro-life side,” Craig told WORLD. “I’ve told my classes for years, if Roe ever gets overturned, Republicans are going to find themselves swimming upstream.”

Biden hopes to capitalize on the sentiment, making abortion a staple of his reelection platform. His campaign released an ad on Monday featuring Amanda Zurawski, a Texas woman who says the state’s pro-life law kept doctors from treating her for pregnancy complications until she nearly died. (Doctors interviewed by WORLD said the Texas law does not require doctors to deny care in situations like Zurawski’s, and data show that abortions for medical reasons continue in the state.)

Trump calls himself the most pro-life president for appointing three conservative justices to the Supreme Court, which led to the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson decision that restored states’ ability to protect unborn babies throughout pregnancy. But in a statement this week, Trump said that he would not sign a federal law protecting babies from abortion and that each state must decide on its own. On Wednesday, he told reporters before he boarded a plane that he would not sign a federal abortion ban if reelected.

“Now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it, from a legal standpoint. The states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both,” Trump said in a video address on Monday. “And whatever they decide must be the law of the land. In this case, the law of the state. Many states will be different, many will have a different number of weeks, or some will be more conservative than others, and that’s what they will be.”

Pro-lifers like former Vice President Mike Pence called Trump’s statement a “slap in the face.” SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser critiqued Trump’s interpretation of states’ rights, arguing that the position “cedes the national debate” to Democrats and opens the door to limitless abortions.

Stemberger of of Liberty Council Action agreed that there is room for federal legislation, pointing out that the Dobbs decision returned the issue to “the people and their elected representatives,” which could include members of Congress.

“Republicans evade the issue by saying it’s up to the states,” he said. “President Trump is a transactional leader, not a principled one. He’s concerned about the polling, but we should be governed by principles like everyone deserving dignity as image bearers of God. And right now it’s in tension with the political polling in the Republican Party and with the party leader, President Trump. So it is a challenge on how to lead moving forward.”

Florida pro-lifers are not the only ones facing that challenge. On Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated a Civil War–era law that makes performing or aiding an abortion a felony at any stage of pregnancy, leaving one exception if the mother’s life is at risk. Organizers in Nevada have filed two abortion-related proposals, one of which would add abortion as a state constitutional right. Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom reports it has already collected 110,000 signatures and will submit them soon to the state. More signature campaigns are underway in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, and Nebraska. An amendment to add a right to abortion to the state constitution has already qualified for the ballot in Maryland.

“In an era of unprecedentedly close elections, both parties want something that motivates people to get out and vote and mobilizes a fear of the other side taking something away,” said Craig, of the University of Florida. “And abortion does both, but anecdotal evidence seems to show the pro-life side a bit on the run. Republicans are having a hard time figuring out how to deal with abortion. And in the post-Dobbs world, this favors the Democrats.”

Last year, an abortion amendment passed in Ohio despite months of pro-life lobbying against it. Stemberger said pro-lifers in Florida are taking notes.

“We’re talking to people in Ohio and other states to get the collective wisdom of what they did right and what they did wrong,” Stemberger said. “We’ve got a very good chance of winning here in defeating this amendment because it’s so radical. We need to discuss this in winsome categories so that we’re winning people over, because the bottom line is that the most vulnerable members of our society are in the mother’s womb, and we need to focus on that.”

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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