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Florida Supreme Court to rule on abortion referendum

Florida State Supreme Court chamber Associated Press/Photo by Mark Foley

Florida Supreme Court to rule on abortion referendum

Justices for the state’s highest court heard arguments Wednesday on whether an abortion measure should appear on the state’s 2024 election ballot. The Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion would prohibit any laws from banning abortion before a baby is considered viable, usually around 24 weeks. The amendment states laws cannot “prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion” when it is determined to be essential for the patient's health by a "healthcare provider." The amendment would retain a current provision in the state constitution requiring that parents be notified if a minor seeks an abortion.

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office and Liberty Counsel argued that the measure was overreaching and would effectively ban any legislative restrictions on abortion. Pro-life attorneys noted that the bill does not adequately define “healthcare provider,” potentially allowing a woman to have an abortion based on the recommendation of a massage therapist, for example. Liberty Counsel Founder Mat Staver and Florida Senior Deputy Solicitor Nathan Forrester further described the amendment as “broad, misleading, and deceptive,” which the court pushed back on. “The people of Florida aren’t stupid,” Chief Justice Carlos G. Muñiz said. “They can figure this out.” Courtney Brewer represented the pro-abortion group Floridians Protecting Freedom and maintained that the referendum’s language is clear and easily meets ballot requirements.

Any idea on how the court will vote? The court has a conservative majority, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointing five of seven sitting justices. A ruling is expected by April 1.

How many citizens support this new amendment? Floridians Protecting Freedom says it collected nearly 1 million signatures certified by the state’s board of elections supporting the amendment appearing on the November ballot. Census data shows over 22 million people currently reside in Florida.

What are the state’s current protections for unborn babies? Florida currently protects babies from abortion after 15 weeks gestation. The state supreme court heard arguments on whether to keep that protection last September and has yet to give a ruling. The justices have allowed the measure to remain active until a verdict is handed down. DeSantis also signed a “heartbeat” bill, protecting babies from being aborted after a heartbeat is detected or after six weeks. That bill will eventually go into effect if the court upholds the 15-week protection.

Dig deeper: Read Leah Savas’ report on abortion data from pro-life states.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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