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Advocates Organize to Enshrine Abortion Protections in Florida’s Constitution

New restrictions on citizen-led ballot initiatives levied by the GOP-controlled legislature exacerbates the time crunch.

An activist chants along with other protesters and activists near the Florida State Capitol where Florida state senators voted to pass a proposed 6-week abortion ban in Tallahassee, Florida, on April 3, 2023.

A coalition of abortion rights advocates in Florida is set to push a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion protections into the state’s constitution, with the launch of a public campaign to get the issue on the Florida 2024 ballot expected next week.

The coalition has already filed necessary paperwork with the state to begin collecting signatures and fundraising for the effort, said Nikki Fried, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, who first pitched the ballot measure last August.

Fried said the language in the ballot measure would be unveiled in the coming week, but said it would enshrine the right to choose an abortion and reflect survey data showing that 75 percent of Floridians oppose the six-week abortion ban approved by Republican lawmakers last month. The ballot effort was first reported by Politico.

The campaign faces an uphill battle to passage: It’s launching with just nine months to go until the deadline to collect about a million signatures to make the 2024 ballot.

The time crunch is exacerbated by new restrictions on citizen-led ballot initiatives levied by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. Among other hurdles, lawmakers upped the vote threshold needed for passage to 60 percent. Republicans are considering proposals to further increase the threshold, which could effectively kneecap the campaign before it even makes the ballot.

If it passes, the ballot measure would protect abortion access in the nation’s third-most populous state and restore some regional access in the South amid ongoing efforts in states including North Carolina to restrict access to the procedure.

The ballot measure could also be a boon for Florida Democrats, whose abysmal performance in recent elections has dried up donor support and stymied candidate recruitment efforts. Enthusiasm among national and in-state progressive donors could drive funding back into the state and help boost turnout for Democrats.

The coalition backing the measure includes Planned Parenthood’s Florida affiliates and other groups supporting abortion access. Fried said the campaign will extend beyond Democrats and target independent and Republican voters who oppose Republicans’ recent efforts to restrict the rights of pregnant Floridians.

There are 10 states where abortion rights are under threat that have a process for citizen-led ballot measures, according to a study out of center-left think tank Third Way. Of those states, three have the greatest likelihood of approving an abortion rights measure: Arizona, Ohio and Florida.

Lucas Holt, a political analyst with Third Way, pointed to a March poll from the University of North Florida showing that 75 percent of registered voters oppose the state’s six-week abortion ban, which includes no exceptions for rape or incest. The poll logged opposition among independent voters at 73 percent, among Republicans at 61 percent and among Democrats at 91 percent. The ban is set to go into effect if and when the state Supreme Court upholds an earlier 15-week ban; a ruling is expected this summer.

Organizers behind the ballot measure “would really need to ramp up their efforts, but given large support for legalization and the backlash the GOP is likely to face, I think there’s a likelihood of success,” Holt said. The chances of passage will quickly diminish if state Republican leaders increase the threshold for passage beyond 60 percent.

The coalition will have until February to collect close to 900,000 valid signatures. Campaigns tend to set their goals above the needed target to avoid falling short over questions of validation.

“When there’s a will, there’s a way, and that’s what we’re going to be operating under,” Fried said. “Of course, anybody who’s involved in this movement would have loved the language to have been already out there publicly and already been gathering signatures. Every single day that it’s not out, we’re losing opportunities to gather those signatures. But certainly, it is going to be all hands on deck to get the signatures needed.”

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