Florida Supreme Court considers proposed 2024 ballot initiative that would add abortion rights to state constitution

 February 8, 2024

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in a case involving a potential 2024 ballot initiative pushed by pro-abortion activist groups that, if passed, would amend the state's constitution to include a woman's "right" to obtain the life-ending procedure for unborn babies, Politico reported.

At immediate stake here is the ballot initiative itself and whether it complies with state laws that require such initiatives to be constrained to a single subject and written clearly and definitively in a way that is easy for the average voter to understand.

More broadly at stake in this legal dispute is what the impact of the pro-abortion measure would be on the state's existing restrictions on abortion procedures if it is included on the 2024 ballot and passed by voters, as both a 15-week limit -- which is facing separate legal challenges -- and a pending six-week ban would likely be overturned and deemed unconstitutional.

Is the initiative misleading or easy to understand?

The Florida Phoenix reported that crowds of activists for both the pro-life and pro-abortion sides gathered in front of the Florida Supreme Court building on Wednesday while the oral arguments on the ballot initiative were ongoing.

Both sides had boisterous speakers who aimed to rally their respective supporters, and while law enforcement and the media formed a sort of barrier between the two groups, the situation was tense. There were a few instances of the two sides coming dangerously close to each other -- enough to interfere with speakers and block signs -- though there were no reports of any violence.

At one point, one of the attorneys for the pro-life side, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel and Florida Voters Against Extremism, shared with the media some of what had been argued in the courtroom and delivered a dire prediction of what the reality would be in the Sunshine State if the ballot initiative was passed as a constitutional amendment.

"No law will stand if this amendment is passed, other than possibly parental notification with exceptions, but after that, no law will pass," Staver predicted. "No law will stand. All the existing regulations and laws that are on the books will be gone, and no law will be able to be enacted in the future. And that includes parental consent, health and safety regulations with regards to clinics, how abortions can be done safely, or where they can be done."

"The people of Florida aren’t stupid"

The Hill reported that the Florida Supreme Court justices, despite having a conservative-leaning majority, seemed to express some skepticism toward the arguments made by the state in favor of disqualifying the initiative from appearing on the ballot due to its language being vague and misleading and confusing for some voters.

Chief Justice Carlos Muniz said at one point, "It’s pretty obvious that this is an aggressive, comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue. The people of Florida aren’t stupid. They can figure this out."

"There’s no possible way a summary could tick through all these different variables and possible implications," the chief justice added at another point. "The summary says what it says. People can see for themselves if it’s too broad or vague or whatever."

A "wolf in sheep's clothing" or just a plain old wolf

As for the arguments made by Staver and other pro-life attorneys about the possible broad ramifications of the would-be amendment and how it was a deceptively presented "wolf in sheep's clothing," The Hill reported that Justice John Curiel directly addressed those claims.

"You’re saying this is a wolf. And a wolf it may be, but it seems our job is to say whether it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That’s all we get to do," Curiel said as a reminder that the court was limited to only consider whether the initiative dealt with a single subject and was written clearly and understandably.

"This may be as sweeping as you say, it may be that it wipes away all regulation of abortion. … We may find that very persuasive from the standpoint of whether or not to vote in favor of the amendment," he added. "But … the question before us is, is this hiding a ball in some meaningful way, or can voters look at this and say, that’s sweeping and we shouldn’t approve this?"

Politico noted that backers of the ballot initiative gathered more than 1.3 million signatures, far more than the 891,523 that were needed, and raised more than $15.6 million in support of the effort. However, even if they prevail at the state's highest court and the initiative is included on the ballot, it would need to clear 60% support in the election to be added as an amendment, and even then it would undoubtedly face substantial legal challenges going forward.

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