Florida’s abortion rights ballot triumph counters Supreme Court threats

A person holding up a sign that says "Abortion is health care" in a group of people at an outdoor protest

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent move on an abortion case is all the more reason to celebrate the fact that activists have succeeded in getting an abortion rights initiative onto the ballot in Florida.

Floridians Protecting Freedom, which is promoting an amendment to the Florida Constitution to protect abortion rights, on Friday announced it had met the daunting threshold of garnering nearly 900,000 signatures, with some to spare.

But the same day the group announced its good news, the U.S. Supreme Court announced very bad news for reproductive rights. The court cruelly took emergency action at the behest of the Christian nationalist Alliance Defending Freedom, temporarily lifting a lower court order that blocked enforcement of Idaho’s near-complete abortion ban related to emergency care. Worse still, the high court that overturned Roe vs. Wade by a 6-3 margin two years ago announced it will hear the case, a showdown between anti-abortion states and the Biden administration. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

President Biden, as every compassionate American must, blasted the action: “Today’s Supreme Court order allows Idaho’s extreme abortion ban to go back into effect and denies women critical emergency abortion care required by federal law.”

At stake is the Biden administration’s enforcement of the rights of pregnant patients and their doctors under the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires hospitals to “stabilize” patients with emergency medical conditions. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar had filed a brief noting that “an emergency-room physician who concludes that a pregnant woman needs an abortion to stabilize a condition that would otherwise threaten serious and irreversible harm may not provide the necessary care unless and until the patient’s condition deteriorates to the point where an abortion is needed to save her life.”

This is the second momentous case on abortion rights now before the high court, which is also reviewing an appeal over restrictions on medication abortion. The Christian nationalist outfit Alliance Defending Freedom is likewise representing anti-abortion advocates who judge-shopped extremist U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who issued an April ban on mifepristone nationwide. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August partially upheld his ruling, including the banning of telemedicine and mail-order shipments for abortion pills. That ruling is on hold pending the decision by the Supreme Court.

Pro-choice activists are fighting back against this religious anti-abortion crusade where they can with ballot initiatives. Florida’s proposed ballot summary 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 health care provider.” Predictably, theocratic anti-abortionists are fighting to thwart democracy and keep it off the ballot, but so far such attempts have failed in other states passing abortion rights amendments. Seven statewide ballot initiatives on abortion rights since 2022 in fact have resulted in firm victories for abortion rights proponents, even in conservative strongholds like Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio.

Florida is in addition to two other states with certain ballot measures on abortion this year. New York voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment barring the denial of rights based on pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes and reproductive health care, and Maryland voters will consider an amendment for reproductive freedom. Dueling pro- and anti-abortion amendments are in the works in Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska, while pro-choice amendments are pending in Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, Nevada and South Dakota. Anti-abortion amendments are pending in Iowa and Pennsylvania.

“It is repugnant that conservative Catholic Supreme Court justices seemingly would place ‘states’ rights’ above the rights and health of citizens facing pregnancy emergencies,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.“Meanwhile we applaud the nearly 1 million Floridians who signed the petitions to place protection of abortion rights on the ballot.”

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