Florida’s conservative Supreme Court considered the wording of a ballot proposal Wednesday that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution — a measure that Florida officials are hell-bent on stopping.
Floridians Protecting Freedom, a political action group, collected more than 1 million signatures, well over the amount required, from residents wishing to vote on the proposal come November. If passed, the proposal would prevent Florida lawmakers from interfering with abortion decisions made by pregnant patients and their doctors up until the point where the fetus is able to survive outside the womb, which is generally at 24 weeks’ gestation.
But the language of the amendment has been challenged by the state’s Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody.
The ballot initiative would be titled “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion.” Its summary would be brief and draw directly from the proposed language of the amendment, reading: “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. This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.”
Nathan Forrester, an attorney with Moody’s office, argued before the state Supreme Court that the phrasing is “of such elasticity that an enormously wide range of meanings will attach to it.” He called the language “understated to the point of deception.”
Terms like “viability,” Forrester argued, are too vague. He claimed the amendment would prevent the state from regulating abortion safety whatsoever, and that a more accurate title would be “Amendment to Prohibit Government Interference with Abortion.”
“Voters won’t know what they’re voting for,” he said.
Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz said in response that “the people of Florida aren’t stupid.”
“I mean, they can figure this out,” he said.
Courtney Brewer, an attorney for Floridians Protecting Freedom, said she did not know how the language could be more clear. It follows all of the state’s rules for how a ballot proposal should be presented, she said.
“The people of Florida should be able to exercise their voice, and vote on this amendment,” Brewer said.
Two of the Florida Supreme Court’s seven justices were appointed by Democrats. The rest were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who supports extreme abortion restrictions.
After the hearing, state Sen. Linda Stewart (D) accused Moody’s office of “actively working to subvert the will of the people.”
“Even when citizens initiative groups jump over all the hurdles and play by the rules, the self-proclaimed party of small government is still actively trying to thwart any direct participation in our democracy and force Floridians to take only what freedoms are allowed by the GOP,” Stewart said in a statement.
Voters in Michigan, Ohio and several other states have fought to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.
In Florida, abortion is generally allowed up until the 15-week mark, although officials are aiming to put a much more severe ban into effect. That legislation, which would ban abortion after just six weeks, is tied up in court, meaning that Florida is one of the more permissive states for abortion access in the Southeast — for now.