Florida Supreme Court Sets Date for Abortion Amendment Arguments in February

The Florida Supreme Court has announced that it will hear arguments on February 7th regarding a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at protecting abortion rights in the state. This comes as supporters of the measure are nearing the required number of petition signatures. The court will specifically consider whether the wording of the proposed amendment is suitable for inclusion on the November ballot.

The political committee Floridians Protecting Freedom initiated the amendment drive in May and must collect 891,523 valid petition signatures by the February 1st deadline in order to be eligible for the ballot. As of Wednesday evening, the state Division of Elections website reported that 864,057 valid signatures had been obtained. However, in addition to meeting the signature requirement, Floridians Protecting Freedom also needs Supreme Court approval of the proposed ballot wording, which is being contested by Attorney General Ashley Moody.

While the Supreme Court does not evaluate the merits of proposed constitutional amendments, it does assess whether the wording is clear to voters. Justices review the ballot titles and summaries, which are the parts of the proposed amendments that voters see when they go to the polls. The abortion measure’s ballot summary states, in part, that “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.”

Opponents, including Attorney General Moody, have raised objections to the wording of the proposal, arguing that the term “viability” can have multiple interpretations. In an October brief, Moody characterized the measure as an attempt to deceive voters and claimed that the ballot summary is part of a deliberate strategy to enable abortion proponents to argue for a broader interpretation of the amendment. Floridians Protecting Freedom countered in a November brief, asserting that the meaning of “viability” in the context of abortion has long been understood and that voters can be trusted to comprehend the implications of limiting government interference with abortion before viability.

The initiative by Floridians Protecting Freedom was prompted by the passage of a law earlier this year, supported by the Republican-controlled Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis, that could prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. However, the implementation of the six-week limit depends on the outcome of an ongoing legal battle over a 15-week abortion restriction passed by DeSantis and lawmakers in 2022. The 15-week case is also awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court.

The proposed constitutional amendment in Florida is part of a broader landscape of ballot fights in other states following the 2022 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and delegated authority over abortion regulations to individual states. If the Florida amendment does make it onto the ballot, it will require the approval of 60 percent of voters in order to pass.

In conclusion, the debate over a proposed constitutional amendment to safeguard abortion rights in Florida is set to be examined by the state’s Supreme Court. Supporters of the measure are currently working to gather the required number of petition signatures, while also facing opposition to the proposed wording from Attorney General Ashley Moody. The outcome of this case will have significant implications for the future of abortion rights in the state.

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