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Florida justices OK an abortion amendment and trigger a six-week ban

Advocates rallied at the Florida Supreme Court in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would explicit protect access to abortion.
Erich Martin
Organizers fighting against abortion access protest on the steps of the Florida Supreme Court.

Voters will get to decide the future of abortion through a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in November. In the meantime, a six-week abortion limit is now scheduled to take effect in 30 days. The moves are part of two separate rulings from the Florida Supreme Court.

The Florida Supreme Court has issued two rulings that stand to significantly impact abortion access in Florida. Voters will get to decide the future of abortion through a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in November. In a separate decision, the court upheld Florida's current 15-week abortion ban, triggering a six-week ban to take effect in 30 days.

Lauren Brenzel is the campaign director for Floridians Protecting Freedom, the group leading the push for the amendment.Brenzel is happy to see the proposal heading for the ballot, but they worry the six-week limitations on abortion will create a “public health emergency.”

“There is nowhere in our southern region to intake Florida’s patients,” Brenzel says. “Women will be forced to travel thousands of miles away from their support systems and their own providers.”

Lawmakers approved the six-week ban last year but stipulated it would not go into effect until the court issued a ruling on Florida's current 15-week abortion limit. In an opinion Mondayjustices upheld the current rules and found that a privacy amendment in the state constitution does not protect access to abortion—reversing a ruling the court had issued back in 1989.

As the new restrictions go into effect, Brenzel says abortion access advocates will be working to ensure people can get the care they need.

"There is a network of folks who are interested in helping people obtain care," Brenzel says.

The proposed amendment could reverse the six-week ban. If the amendment language passes in November, Brenzel says it will go effect in January of next year. To pass, it needs approval from at least 60% of the voters who turn out at the polls. More than a million people signed petitions to get the proposed amendment on the ballot, but Brenzel says the next step will require even broader support.

“We need to make sure that we reach out to voters all across this very large state who come from a variety of different backgrounds and a variety of different standpoints on the uniqueness of pregnancy," Brenzel says.

Florida’s Republican House Speaker Paul Renner spoke to journalists immediately after the court issued its rulings. Renner calls the amendment “extreme” and says he plans to fight it—starting by targeting people “in the middle.”

“Those that are pro-choice, or consider themselves that," Renner says. "When you dig into this amendment, they would find it to be far, far more extreme than anything else in the country or even around the world.”

The proposed amendment says, in part, “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.” It includes one exception, for parental notification when minors seek an abortion—a stipulation which is already in the state constitution.

The proposal has already been given a ballot number. It will appear as Amendment Four in November. Abortion access advocates are planning to kick off their “Yes on 4” campaign next weekend in Orlando.
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