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FL voters could punish abortion deniers in November elections

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FL voters could punish abortion deniers in November elections

Apr 14, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Barrington Salmon
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FL voters could punish abortion deniers in November elections
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Supporters of the ballot proposal to enshrine the right to abortion in the Florida Constitution hold signs outside of the Florida Supreme Court on Feb. 7, 2024. (Photo by Jackie Llanos/Florida Phoenix)

It’s not very often that voters who’ve been screwed over by elected officials get the opportunity to exact revenge a short time later.

For the far-right politicos — who have hijacked Florida’s political apparatus and who act as if the state is their political playground — the bill for their extremist position on reproductive justice and abortion care will come due in November. That’s when voters will be able to pass an initiative that would enshrine abortions rights and codify these protections in the Sunshine State’s Constitution.

That’s the state of affairs confronting Gov. Ron DeSantis, his lap poodles in the Legislature, and the coterie of far right, evangelical, pro-Trump extremists who have been operating both in the open and in the shadows to effectively asphyxiate reproductive justice and abortion care.

An Axios reporter described what’s playing out in Florida as “a post-Dobbs novelty in its own right.”

“We haven’t seen this setup yet in which people will be living under a very strict abortion law and then head to the polls to vote on essentially overturning that,” Laurie Sobel, associate director of women’s health policy at KFF, told Axios.

At least 11 other states have either greenlighted or are seeking to approve ballot questions on abortion. Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Maine also have attempted to get abortion measures on ballots, but hurdles make it unlikely.

Republicans likely will lose their efforts to maintain Florida’s near-total abortion ban in November. I expect them to be beaten back by an animated, energized, and motivated cadre of Florida voters who support the ballot initiative. In interviews, people have been incensed by the government prying into their bedrooms, violating their privacy, and attempting to control women’s bodily autonomy.

Rocked back on their heels

The unadulterated glee of conservative Republicans and their anti-abortion accomplices at the evisceration of Roe v. Wade has now turned to desolation as their carefully laid plans crash and burn. In the face of widespread opprobrium and public fury, Republicans of all stripes are unsteady, rocked back on their heels.

They watch helplessly as the wildfire they ignited consumes what’s left of their party and incinerates any hopes of them coming out ahead in November. Republicans need look no further than recent election and ballot amendment beatings in Michigan, Kansas, and Virginia to see the handwriting on the wall.

The numbers tell the story: According to Planned Parenthood, 85% of Americans believe abortion should be legal. In other data, experts say, 81% of Americans believe an abortion is solely a decision made between a woman and her doctor and 70 percent believe abortions should be legal in all or most instances.

Polls show that 73% of Floridians support the proposed abortion ballot amendment, well above the 60% needed to pass the measure.

“Supporters tend to be quite firm in their support, while opponents tend to be quite squishy,” said Florida Women’s Freedom Coalition executive director Anna Hochkammer in a New York Times interview. “This polls well across all demographics. It’s motivating to young people and women, too. No one can deny that it will shape the voter universe.”

When the Florida Supreme Court imposed the six-week ban, said Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani, it closed off the availability of reproductive health services and abortions in a state which “has become a critical access point for people in the U.S. South, as most states in the region have instituted restrictive laws.”

Wasteland

Thanks to DeSantis, the southern United States has become an abortion wasteland with Florida’s near-total ban going into effect in May.

According to the Washington Post, “the closest clinic where abortion will now be legal after the six-week mark for someone living at Florida’s southernmost tip will be a 14-hour drive away in Charlotte. A patient whose pregnancy has progressed beyond 12 weeks, the point at which North Carolina bans abortion, will have to drive 17 hours, to southern Virginia.”

“We’re going to see a complete devastation, not just for Floridians but for women in the Southeast who come to Florida for abortion care when a six-week ban goes into effect,” said Eskamani, who used to work for Planned Parenthood, during a recent call with reporters. “These are going to be tragic and difficult and painful stories.”

The danger to the lives and fortunes of American women in the 22 states that severely restrict or outright ban abortions, as well as the deep hostility towards them by the male-dominated anti-abortion lobby, is front and center.

A recent Washington Post story detailed many of the perils.

South Florida resident Anya Cook, who in 2022 almost died after she was refused an abortion under the state’s then-15 week ban, warned women in the state who end up grappling with complications caused by their pregnancy after six weeks have passed:

“Run,” she said. “Run, because you have no help here.”

Arizona

Caroline Kitchener, who quoted Cook in an April 2 Washington Post story, pointed to another tough challenge pregnant women in Florida will face.

“But even if voters decide to establish a constitutional right to abortion in the state, thousands of women will have to reckon with unwanted pregnancies in the eight months between May 1, when the new ban will take effect, and next January, when such an amendment could be added to the constitution,” Kitchener said.

Yet even as Floridians and the rest of the country were digesting the wildly divergent Florida high court rulings, Arizona galloped to the forefront as ground zero for abortion cruelty, heartlessness, and indifference.

On April 9, the Republican-heavy Arizona Supreme Court upheld an archaic and deeply misogynistic 1864 Civil War-era abortion ban that deems almost all abortions illegal if and when it is implemented. Currently, abortions are legal up to 15 weeks. The 1864 law says performing or assisting in an abortion is a felony; there are no exceptions for rape or incest; the sole exception is for the life of the mother; and doctors could face prison time of between two and five years.

The ruling tossed out a lower court’s decision that a March 2022 15-week ban superseded the 1864 law. The high court has paused the decision for 14 days.

AG won’t enforce

Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes issued a statement shortly after the judgement declaring that she would not enforce the law.

“Today’s decision to reimpose a law from a time when Arizona wasn’t a state, the Civil War was raging, and women couldn’t even vote will go down in history as a stain on our state,” said Mayes.

“This is far from the end of the debate on reproductive freedom, and I look forward to the people of Arizona having their say in the matter. And let me be completely clear, as long as I am Attorney General, no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law in this state.”

The lines are clearly drawn in Arizona, as pro-choice advocates said they secured almost twice the number of signatures needed to put the abortion amendment on the ballot in November.

According to NBC News, Arizona for Abortion Access, a coalition of reproductive rights organizations including the ACLU of Arizona and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, said they had gathered 506,892 petition signatures in the first few days of April, well before the July 3 submission deadline to the Arizona secretary of state’s office. The threshold to put a measure on the ballot is 383,923 signatures.

To Republicans’ chagrin, the Arizona Supreme Court decision has further energized the citizenry and buoyed Democrats’ hopes that what has become a winning issue since Roe was toppled will earn them huge dividends in November.

Blame to share

Donald Trump — who with Mitch McConnell rammed Justices Cavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Coney Barrett on the bench for the expressed purpose of overturning Roe v. Wade — is to blame.

DeSantis is to blame. The Republican Florida legislative majority is to blame. Sen. Rick Scott, who as governor shepherded a slew of abortion restrictions into law, is to blame. As is the far right, extremist wing of Republican Party.

As the heat rises, Republicans are trying furiously to tap dance around this contentious and highly volatile issue but their attempts at walking away have failed. And their lies, half-truths, deception, deflections, and attempts to sow confusion are not working.

Trump is a perfect example. Earlier this week, he said abortion laws should be left to the states, but the Arizona ruling, announced the next day, illustrated the chaos and confusion that killing Roe has wrought.

The former president has proudly proclaimed authorship of ending Roe but has also said many times that the responsibility for the public backlash belongs elsewhere.

“My view is, now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint, the states will determine by vote or legislation, or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land,” Trump said.

At the same time, he has refused to say publicly what his position is on a national abortion ban or whether if he as president he would sign a national ban.

Regardless, Democrats from President Joe Biden to members of Congress to state legislators, activists, and advocates are laying the turmoil, upheaval, and misery caused by these abortion bans and restrictions at the feet of Republicans.

‘Fight like hell’

The Biden campaign has turned up the heat on Republicans with several ads castigating the Arizona Supreme Court, the legislative extremists, and demagogues, with Biden promising to “fight like hell” to restore reproductive rights across the nation.

At the same time, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Arizona on Friday hoping to galvanize voters.

Republicans thought they could implement their dystopian vision of eliminating abortion access and reproductive health care and punishing women most in need.

They thought people would sit quietly by. They were wrong.

The extremists’ misguided, cruel, and deadly anti-abortion agenda will cost them dearly in November. It’s getting hotter and hotter in Republicanland.

Burn, Baby, Burn …