Biden denounces Florida abortion ruling as ‘outrageous’ as state vote looms

The Supreme Court of Florida upheld a 15-week abortion ban, but also allowed a ballot measure on abortion access to proceed.

Women protest for abortion access, with one holding up a sign that reads, "Ban off our bodies Miami."
A November poll found that a majority of adults in the US state of Florida support a ballot measure protecting abortion access [File: Marco Bello/Reuters]

United States President Joe Biden has denounced a Florida Supreme Court decision that allows a six-week ban on abortion to take effect, calling it “outrageous” and “extreme”.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Biden lashed out at Republicans for limiting reproductive rights in Florida and other US states, a key election issue in 2024.

“Florida’s bans — like those put forward by Republican elected officials across the country — are putting the health and lives of millions of women at risk,” he wrote.

The statement comes in response to a series of rulings from Florida’s highest court on Monday, one of which upheld a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

But that same decision is expected to pave the way for the six-week ban to go into effect, too.

In April of last year, the conservative-dominated Florida state legislature passed the six-week ban to replace the 15-week one, and Governor Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

However, the 15-week ban had been the subject of long-standing legal challenges. The six-week ban’s implementation hinged on whether the 15-week one could withstand the lawsuits it faced.

Prior to the 15-week ban, Florida had allowed abortion through the second trimester of pregnancy, which made it a destination for those seeking the procedure from nearby states with tighter restrictions.

Abortion headed to the ballot box

Monday’s string of decisions from the Florida Supreme Court also tees up another battle over abortion access in the state, set to unfold in the midst of November’s heated general elections.

The justices allowed a measure to be placed on the ballot that would amend the state constitution and protect abortion access “before viability” — up to around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The ballot measure passed by a vote of four to three and is known as Amendment 4 or the “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion”.

It calls for the following language be inserted into the Florida constitution, “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health.”

Biden referenced the ballot measure in his Tuesday statement, reaffirming his commitment to protecting “reproductive freedom in Florida and across the nation”.

“Vice President [Kamala] Harris and I stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to choose, including in Florida, where voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard in support of a reproductive freedom ballot initiative this November,” he wrote.

Biden faces a tight campaign for re-election this November, as he is expected to run against former Republican President Donald Trump in a rematch of their 2020 race.

Florida was once considered a swing state, with Republicans and Democrats competing neck and neck in key races. But in recent years, Florida has swung rightwards, with Trump winning the state over Biden in 2020.

The last time Florida had a Democratic governor, for instance, was in 1999, nearly a quarter century ago.

Still, experts see the question of abortion access as weighing in Democrats’ favour. The Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of adults in Florida believed abortion should be “legal in all/most cases”.

Another poll (PDF), published last November by the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab, found that 62 percent of survey participants planned to vote for the constitutional amendment protecting abortion access, if it were to appear on the ballot.

A ‘blueprint’ for the US

Florida is the third most populous state in the US, and as such, it carries significant weight in the Electoral College, the system the country uses to determine who wins its presidential elections.

The state is entitled to 30 Electoral College votes, out of a total of 538.

It is also considered a bellwether for trends in legislation nationwide, with Governor DeSantis calling Florida a “blueprint for America’s revival” in a recent book.

DeSantis, a prominent conservative and former 2024 presidential contender, signed the 15-week abortion ban into law in 2022.

But abortion providers and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Reproductive Rights quickly filed complaints to prevent it from being implemented.

However, in June 2022, within months of the bill’s passage, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, the 1973 decision that upheld the federal right to an abortion for nearly a half a century.

That placed the question of abortion rights in the hands of the states, creating a shifting patchwork of restrictions across the country.

Plaintiffs in the case before the Florida Supreme Court this week argued that the 15-week abortion ban violated the state constitution’s privacy protections, but the justices rebuffed that argument in a six-to-one vote.

Privacy protections had also been the basis for the now-defunct Roe precedent at the federal level. The decision to overturn Roe featured heavily in the Florida court’s decision on Monday.

“The US Supreme Court abandoned Roe’s position that the right to abortion was grounded in any sort of privacy right,” the justices wrote.

“This demonstrates the tenuous connection between ‘privacy’ and ‘abortion’ — an issue that, unlike other privacy matters, directly implicates the interests of both developing human life and the pregnant woman.”

The ACLU of Florida responded to the decision by calling on voters to turn out for the November election.

“These strict bans have and will continue to lead to multiple tragedies as patients are unable to receive needed care after the arbitrary deadline,” it wrote in a statement.

“In the face of a six-week abortion ban, Floridians now have the chance to assert their will at the ballot box, shaping a Florida that is free from government interference in abortion.”

Source: Al Jazeera