Dec 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Florida abortion initiative inches toward ballot threshold

People gather on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on May 7, 2022 for a rally to support abortion rights.

Demonstrators at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale last year in support of abortion rights. Photo: Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A coalition of Florida abortion rights supporters is close to gathering enough signatures to put a referendum on next year's ballot — but whether it'll end up in front of voters hinges on the state's conservative Supreme Court.

Why it matters: If advocates succeed in enshrining abortion rights in Florida's constitution through a ballot measure, it would have massive implications for reproductive health care across the South.

By the numbers: The Florida Division of Elections reports that Floridians Protecting Freedom has collected 687,699 signatures toward the required 891,523 for the amendment to be put on the ballot.

  • Lauren Brenzel, the group's campaign director, tells Axios they have collected 712,051 more that still need to be validated by the state.
  • The signatures must come from a distribution of Florida's congressional districts; Floridians Protecting Freedom is still gathering petitions to meet that requirement, but Brenzel says she's "very confident" they will.

Details: The proposed amendment 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."

State of play: Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a legal brief in November asking the high court to kill the amendment, arguing that its use of the term "viability" is an attempt to "hoodwink" voters.

  • Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, tells Axios that Moody made a "solid argument" considering the high court's "extremely conservative makeup."
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed five of the seven justices who serve on the state Supreme Court.
  • "The failure of the promoters of this amendment to define 'viability' is, in my opinion, a serious mistake," Jarvis says. "If the amendment is passed, it will lead to years of litigation and ultimately force the courts to supply a critical term that the promoters should have included from the get-go."

Between the lines: Abortion rights have won every time they've been on the ballot since Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer. But getting there, in some cases, is more of a challenge.

  • Arkansas' attorney general, for instance, rejected a ballot initiative that sought to bar the state from restricting abortion in late November, asserting the proposed language lacked "clarity."

What's ahead: Florida's Supreme Court must decide on the ballot language by April 1. If approved, the abortion referendum will need support from 60% of voters to succeed.

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