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  • Posted April 2, 2024

Florida Supreme Court Backs Abortion Ban, But Allows Referendum on Issue

In two separate rulings on Monday, the Florida Supreme Court backed that state's abortion ban while also allowing a proposed constitutional amendment that could undo that ban to be placed on the November ballot.

In a 6-1 vote, the court upheld the constitutionality of the state's 15-week abortion ban, which has been in effect since the summer of 2022, while it also triggered a far stricter ban passed last spring that won't allow an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Florida's six-week ban was written to take effect a month after the state Supreme Court backed the 15-week ban.

The six-week ban -- which includes exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal birth defects and medical emergencies -- will likely make it nearly impossible for a woman to get an abortion in the South, the Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, in a 4-3 ruling, the court backed a proposed constitutional amendment that would enshrine abortion rights in that state. That means Floridians will have a chance to vote whether they want women to be able to continue to access abortion. The Floridians Protecting Freedom coalition gathered more than 1.5 million signatures in less than nine months to put the proposal on the November ballot, the Post reported.

A 60 percent supermajority would need to vote in favor of the amendment to add it to the constitution.

“Today's rulings prove exactly what is at stake at the ballot box,” Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, told the Post. “Florida voters understand that voting yes on Amendment 4 in November is our last line of defense.”

Meanwhile, abortion opponents in Florida celebrated the ruling.

“I am ecstatic, having spent a lifetime of work leading up to this moment,” John Stemberger, president of Liberty Counsel Action, a conservative advocacy group, told the Post.

But abortion rights advocates noted the simultaneous rulings underscored just what will be at stake in November.

“This is about to create an unprecedented health-care crisis in the state of Florida,” said Lauren Brenzel, campaign director of Floridians Protecting Freedom.

Even if voters decide to add abortion protections to the state constitution in November, the battle in Florida could be far from over, Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, who specializes in abortion, told the Post.

In the ruling on the amendment, Ziegler noted, the justices stressed that any new constitutional protections for abortion could conflict with “personhood rights as applied to the unborn child.”

That language signals that the court could still intervene to restrict abortion rights, no matter what happens in November, she said.

“This is shots fired, for sure,” she said. "They could not have been any clearer that this is not the end of this … They're saying the constitution may still protect the fetus and unborn child, and that question is still alive.”

More information

The Pew Research Center has more on abortion in the United States.

SOURCES: Florida Supreme Court, rulings, April 1, 2024; Washington Post

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