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In Florida, a self-righteous minority shows us Supreme Court’s post-Roe world | Editorial

·4 min read
MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

June 24, 2022 marked the end of an era of hard-fought expanded rights, the end of the ability of many Americans to make deeply personal decisions, to be treated like adults who can weigh the consequences and ethics of an abortion.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with a 6-3 vote Friday morning, leaving abortion up to individual states. And 26 of them are now certain or likely to ban abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Among those likely to do so is Florida, the research organization, which supports reproductive rights, says.

The court has unleashed a self-righteous minority in these states to force their narrow perspective of morality and physical autonomy onto the rest of the population. Having the right to an abortion doesn’t mean that it is an easy decision, or that the state condones it, but poll after poll shows Floridians want that decision to be made by individuals, not the government. A University of North Florida poll in February found 57% of the state’s registered voters were against the 15-week ban the governor recently signed into law.

The disconnect between our elected leaders and the public goes beyond their opinions. Florida has the fourth-highest abortion rate in the nation, falling behind only Illinois, New York and the District of Columbia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2019. There were more than 18 abortions in the state per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 years, compared with the national average of about 11. That’s in a state run by Republicans who have tried for years to chip away at abortion access with measures such as a mandatory 24-hour waiting period.

The women getting abortions aren’t solely card-carrying liberals. They come from all political leanings, backgrounds and religious views. Some are single, some are married with other children, some don’t want to have children, some do but after much consideration realize they can’t care for one. Some were raped. For them, abortion isn’t a political stance. It shouldn’t be for politicians, either.

Where Florida stands

Florida laws — at least so far — haven’t been as draconian as in other states. Lawmakers rejected Texas’ approach of banning abortions after about six weeks and deputizing regular citizens by allowing them to sue anyone who performs or “aids and abets” an abortion. They didn’t go as far as Oklahoma, which banned the procedure at fertilization. Florida doesn’t have a “trigger law” like 13 other states do to impose bans as soon as the Supreme Court allows it.

Even with Roe v. Wade gone, Florida is unique because of a privacy amendment to the state constitution that the state Supreme Court cited to uphold abortion rights in 1989. Since then, however, Republicans have reshaped the court with conservative appointments and lawmakers appear eager to test whether their efforts paid off. The 15-week ban already faces legal challenges on the grounds of privacy and religious freedom rights. Although the Christian right dominates this debate, not every religion is against abortion.

In 2021, only 6% of some 80,000 abortions performed in Florida happened in the second trimester, after about 12 weeks of pregnancy. So most people seeking an abortion will not feel the impact of the 15-week ban. But that also provides reason for Republicans to go even farther. After the Supreme Court opinion was leaked in May, anti-abortion activists rallied in Tallahassee to ask Gov. Ron DeSantis to call a special session to end abortions.

DeSantis until Friday had been unusually vague on how far he’s willing to push. He issued a statement after the Supreme Court opinion was released saying he will “work to expand pro-life protections,” but he did not provide any details.

Legislative leaders haven’t announced any plans either. After the leak, they appeared cautious about promising anything beyond the 15-week ban, perhaps reflecting a state that, despite leaning Republican in recent elections, still has tinges of purple.

State Sen. President Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican slated to be the next Senate president, told Politico earlier this month that “there’s always a chance” lawmakers could pass a complete ban, but didn’t say if she would push for one herself.

Now that the Supreme Court opinion is official, Republicans will be under pressure to give a definitive answer. We wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is yes.

If it is, Florida will enter even darker times.