Floridians are almost halfway to putting abortion rights on next year’s ballot. The citizen-led ballot initiative campaign Floridians Protecting Freedom is leading the effort to let voters decide whether to make a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights. Their goal is to collect 1.25 million petitions. They need about 892,000 signatures by Feb. 1 to get the initiative on the ballot. The campaign had about 402,000 signatures as of Oct. 30. Advocates from Floridians Protecting Freedom say they are confident they will get the needed signatures in time for the deadline and ensure that Floridians have a say in protecting their abortion rights come November 2024.
“We know that getting a constitutional amendment in place that explicitly protects access to abortion will be the … final answer,” said Amy Weintraub, the reproductive rights program director for Progress Florida. “We know that what’s happening in Tallahassee with politicians is very much out of sync with the will and the preferences and the needs of Floridians.”
The initiative reached the signatures needed to trigger a state Supreme Court review of the ballot question’s language earlier this month. The 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.” The amendment doesn’t impact requirements that parents be notified before a minor has an abortion.
“We are very, very confident that the language that has been drafted for this constitutional amendment will hold up in court,” Weintraub said. “We have had amazing legal thinkers and constitutional experts involved from the beginning. We … are very confident that we will be able to successfully defend the language that we’re using.”
Florida is currently upholding a 15-week abortion ban, but in April Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban into law that will not go into effect until the state’s Supreme Court determines the legality of the 15-week abortion ban, which is being challenged by abortion advocates and providers citing a 1989 decision in which the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Florida’s constitution, which guarantees a right to privacy, protected access to abortion.
Even if the court approves the ballot language and Floridians Protecting Freedom hits the signature threshold, the effort would still need support from 60% of voters to succeed. But there’s still some hope for reproductive rights supporters. A May 2022 poll from Florida Atlantic University found that 67% of Floridians want abortion legal in all or most cases. Progressive states like California and Vermont, and even conservative states like Kentucky and Kansas, have also recently voted in support of abortion access. Polls since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade have consistently shown that most Americans believe abortion should be legal.
According to data from the Society of Family Planning, the number of monthly abortions in Florida has increased by an average of 40% since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The increase is likely due to surrounding states banning abortions. Patients are now traveling to Florida to access care. If abortion rights in Florida are not restored, thousands of patients, especially communities of color, will be impacted.
“The people who are most vulnerable are the ones who already face systemic barriers to health care,” Weintraub said. “I’m talking about undocumented folks. I’m talking about young people. I’m talking about communities of color. I’m talking about communities that have fewer resources, certainly the uninsured and the underinsured. All of those people who are already facing barriers are going to be the ones who are by far most seriously impacted if this amendment doesn’t get through because of the pending six-week abortion ban.”
If the constitutional amendment is passed it will overrule the six- and 15-week abortion bans.