Florida high court clears way for abortion ballot initiative

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Monday that a state constitutional amendment that would limit government intervention in abortion procedures across Florida meets the necessary requirements to appear on ballots this November, and at the same time upheld Florida’s 15-week abortion ban. 

The court’s decision to uphold the 15-week abortion ban clears the way for the six-week “heartbeat” ban signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last April to go into effect in 30 days. Until Monday’s ruling, Florida has been viewed as a southern safe haven for abortions, since the current 15-week ban in place is less restrictive than bans in neighboring states like Georgia, where the procedure is also banned at six weeks. 

Planned Parenthood had sought to challenge the law, citing Florida’s broad privacy protections, arguing that those protections included the right to an abortion. It filed its case before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal right to an abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org. in June 2022. The state supreme court noted that in previous rulings, it had “held that the Privacy Clause guaranteed the right to receive an abortion through the end of the second trimester,” but in light of the the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of this argument, the Florida high court also held that “there is no basis under the Privacy Clause to invalidate the statute,” it wrote, in reference to the 15-week ban.

“Based on our analysis finding no clear right to abortion embodied within the Privacy Clause, Planned Parenthood cannot overcome the presumption of constitutionality and is unable to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the 15-week ban is unconstitutional,” the state high court ruled.

The court, which usually issues decisions on Thursdays, issued the rulings in a pair of out-of-calendar opinions.

Amendment 4

The state supreme court also ruled that the proposed ballot measure to amend the state constitution to allow abortion is in compliance with Florida statutes, finding that “there is no basis for concluding that the proposed amendment is facially invalid under the United States Constitution.” 

“Accordingly, we approve the proposed amendment for placement on the ballot,” the court wrote in its per curiam opinion.

The pro-abortion rights ballot initiative was introduced by Floridians Protecting Freedoms, a statewide campaign that argues “that all Floridians deserve the freedom to make personal medical decisions, including about abortion, free of government intrusion,” according to its website. 

The measure, which will appear on ballots this fall as Amendment 4, would allow abortions before viability, but it would still require parents to be notified if a minor has an abortion. 

“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,” the ballot measure reads. “This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.” 

Amendment 4 will require 60% support to pass, and if it does pass in November, it will supersede the six-week ban that is about to go into effect.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, had argued against the proposed amendment, taking issue with the word “viability” in the ballot initiative. In a brief filed to the court in November, Moody said, “There is no single formally recognized clinical definition of ‘viability.'” 

Lawyers representing Floridians Protecting Freedoms argued that “viability” is not ambiguous and that voters understand what it means in the context of an abortion. 

Original CBS News Link</a