In Florida, both sides in abortion fight wait to see how far DeSantis will go
How DeSantis navigates these aspirations has implications for women and families far beyond Florida’s borders. Florida’s 55 abortion clinics have long welcomed women from surrounding states in the South where it has become increasingly difficult over the years to legally get the procedure.
“There’s a lot of fear and anxiety about what’s to come,” said Laura Goodhue, the vice president for public policy at Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida. “It’s a real health care crisis that’s going to have ripple effects.”
State Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican who has been at the forefront of the legislature’s anti-abortion push, said GOP lawmakers will look to DeSantis for its next steps.
“His leadership is essential on this,” Baxley said.
“Our future legislative action necessarily depends on the resolution of these legal issues,” DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in a statement to CNN. “We are in continuous contact with the legislature as this litigation proceeds, and we look forward to future policy plans to defend the unborn.”
Whatever DeSantis decides, Democrats have little power to stop it. Republicans control the state House and Senate with healthy majorities, and DeSantis, known for dictating his party’s legislative agenda, could call them back to Tallahassee at any time, including after the election.
Republicans “own the game, they created the board and they make the rules,” state Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book said.
A court shaped by DeSantis
DeSantis’ greatest impact on the future of abortion in the state of Florida may have already been felt.
“The next governor in all likelihood is going to have three appointments to our state Supreme Court, which is a historically liberal court. They’re activists. They legislate from the bench,” DeSantis said during a GOP primary debate in 2018 hosted by Fox. “I can tell you this: I am best positioned to identify those candidates for nomination to the state Supreme Court who are going to apply the law faithfully and will not be judicial activists.”
Within a year of taking office, DeSantis dramatically had reshaped the state’s seven-member court, appointing three conservative judges to replace two jurists named to the bench by Democrat Lawton Chiles and a moderate nominated by Republican Jeb Bush. This year, the departure of another justice will give DeSantis a fourth chance to further his influence on the state Supreme Court. Like Trump, DeSantis culled his picks from the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that advocates a textualist and originalist reading of the US Constitution.
“It’s an enormous influence,” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, a conservative Christian organization that opposes abortion. “The court is not just four or eight years. You’re talking about 20 to 30 years out. I think that it’s a very significant, silent but powerful influence that he has into the future.”
This new majority-DeSantis-appointee court will likely soon decide the fate of Florida’s 15-week abortion ban. While similar bans in other states are now protected by last week’s Supreme Court decision, Florida is in a unique situation. Enshrined in its state Constitution is the right to privacy, defined as “the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein.” The Florida Supreme Court has for decades held that this privacy clause protects the right of women to get an abortion.
Proponents of abortion rights are not optimistic about their chances before this more conservative court, which has already shown a willingness to overturn precedent set by earlier justices.
“We don’t believe this court will see it the way other courts have,” Book said. “Any piece of protection, that modicum of protection is gone.”
The question is how long it will take for the case to reach the state Supreme Court and for a ruling. It took seven years for the court to decide to uphold a law requiring women wait 24 hours after their initial physician visit to get an abortion.
Dueling political priorities
“We are not going to sit back idly and just let these different laws across the nation erode our privacy rights,” Fried said. “Women are upset. Women are angry.”
The new dynamics in the race after the elimination of Roe v. Wade present a challenge for DeSantis as he faces Florida voters while also eyeing what comes beyond November. Those close to DeSantis have said that the governor believes a blowout victory in a traditional swing state like Florida is the best way to make a statement entering the 2024 GOP presidential nominating contest. But conventional wisdom suggests the voters he’ll need to achieve a lopsided win in Florida — moderates and suburban women — are also less likely to support sweeping changes to abortion access.
“It comes down to whether people believe the consistency of their convictions when it comes to the sanctity of life,” Vander Plaats added.
DeSantis in the past vowed to support legislation to cease abortions after a heartbeat could be detected — similar to bans signed by Abbott and Reynolds. Stemberger said he expects that is the legislative route DeSantis and Republicans will pursue when they decide to act, though he wasn’t sure when that would be.
Baxley said he doesn’t see a need to push ahead and wants state lawmakers to deliberately consider not just abortion restrictions but ways to improve pregnancy outcomes.
“This is such a big turning point, we want to make sure we get this right,” Baxley said.
Asked if Republicans should give law enforcement more power to punish women who seek abortions out of state or people or companies that assist them, Baxley said, “Everything is on the table. We have a great opportunity to change this direction, but all of those ideas need to be explored.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.
Quoted from Various Sources
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