After the repeal of Roe, women are fighting to change Florida's constitution to protect abortion
It’s been a little longer than a year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade—turning decisions about abortion access over to individual states. In that time, Florida has enacted a law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, passed a 6-week ban that remains pending, and prepared to challenge a privacy clause in the state constitution that has, in the past, been found to protect abortion rights. Now, women and other advocates are working to put language in the state constitution that explicitly protects abortion access.
One of those women is Trish Brown.
“As long as I have breath in my body I’m going to continue to fight for freedom and liberation and I’m going to continue to fight to have control over my own body,” Brown told WFSU during a rainy rally outside Florida’s historic capital.
Brown and other members of the group had hoped to raise awareness about some of the social justice issues moving forward in Florida. They also planned to register new voters and collect petition signatures in support of a proposed state constitutional amendment that would explicitly protect access to abortion.
A day of thunderstorms dampened their plans, but Brown says a bit of rain has never dampened her spirit. She believes in the causes she’s fighting for—especially the proposed amendment.
“We wouldn’t be out here fighting this hard for something we don’t believe in,” Brown says.
Brown says she’s fighting for bodily autonomy, for the safety of Black and Brown mothers who are disproportionately impacted by maternal mortality, and she’s fighting for the future.
That same fight is happening all over Florida.
In Orlando, an onstage callout from the band Paramore led more than 1,300 concert-goers to sign petitions.
“That was just one example of the enthusiasm, especially among young voters, toward this effort,” says Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) who was helping to gather petitions that day.
Floridians Protecting Freedom, the group behind the initiative, says organizers have collected more than 300,000 petitions statewide, though not all of those signatures have been verified. Data from the State Division of Elections shows the total number of collected signatures at 22,164. To get a proposed amendment on the ballot, 891,523 signatures are required. Advocates are pushing for more than a million, because they know inevitably some signatures will be disqualified or thrown out. Eskamani says she she’s confident supporters will meet that threshold, but she says the more difficult hurdle will be getting approval from 60% of the voters who show up at the polls.
“The difference between a ballot initiative and voting for a candidate is 60% plus one doesn’t cut it for us. We need to get that 60% threshold to actually get this added to our constitution,” Eskamani says.
Eskamani, who was recently featured in a documentary series studying the fight for abortion access in the South, says getting the ballot measure passed will require widespread support.
“We’re not going to win if it’s just led by one party, we’re not going to win if it’s led by one group of people. It really has to be multi-generational, multiracial and multi-class. It has to be a coalition of folks who are working people to some of the wealthiest people. That’s the only way we’re going to be successful," Eskamani says. "It really has to be a collaborative effort across the spectrum—including Republicans. We need moderate Republicans to not only support us but to encourage their peers to vote yes on this ballot initiative as well."
Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation) says that’s one of the best things about the initiative.
“You have women organically coming together to work alongside Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the other groups working to make this happen to collect petitions,” Book says.
Book says she’s heard of women throwing petition parties in their homes to help encourage their friends to get involved. One example, she says, is her mother-in-law who lives in a conservative Naples community.
“She’s handing out petitions to her book club and when they walk at the pool,” Book says. “This means something to a different swath of people than we are used to or that I think had been tapped before.”
Book says when she thinks about the access to healthcare for pregnant people in Florida, she feels a range of emotion including guilt and fear, but she tries to focus on hope.
“I have to for my daughter,” she says. “Every day we’re out there collecting petitions, raising money, talking to people. I don’t have a choice but to believe because the alternative is just too scary. Forced birth—a world where forced birth happens—is just too scary.”
The Florida Supreme Court has scheduled arguments in a lawsuit against the state’s current abortion limitations for September. Advocates are working to put the proposed amendment before voters in November of 2024.
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