Just about one month after launching a campaign to get abortion access on the state ballot in 2024, abortion rights advocates in Florida have gathered 100,000 petitions so far for the proposed ballot measure, according to a leader involved in the campaign, mobilizing thousands of volunteers across the state.
“We’re really, really excited about the outpouring of support and work,” said Amy Weintraub, reproductive rights program director of Progress Florida who's helped coordinate administrative and volunteer training efforts. “Thousands of Floridians are working on this.”
The proposed ballot initiative, coming in the wake of a six-week abortion ban being signed into law, is being spearheaded by Floridians Protecting Freedom, a campaign led by Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Florida Rising and Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida.
The ballot summary reads: “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.”
Medical fetal viability, or when a fetus can survive outside of the womb, is generally estimated at around 23 to 24 weeks of gestation.
The ballot initiative, which would amend the state’s constitution, clarifies that it would not affect a Florida law restricting abortion access among minors.
It's safe to say that abortion access is a divisive topic, although not as strictly partisan among Floridians as the votes by state legislators.
A poll by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab found that about 75% of registered voters in March either somewhat or strongly opposed Florida's looming six-week abortion ban, including 61% of Republicans.
Signing the petition, at this stage, would just get the measure on the ballot.
It does not count as a vote for the initiative — simply indicates support for allowing Florida voters to have their say next November.
Nearly 900,000 petitions are needed to get the measure onto the 2024 ballot, with a deadline of Feb. 1, 2024. The Florida Supreme Court (which DeSantis and his predecessors have packed with conservatives) will also need to sign off on the proposed ballot question’s wording.
And Weintraub told Orlando Weekly they’re just getting started. Flush with over $2 million in donations so far, the Floridians Protecting Freedom campaign recently hired their first paid canvassers dedicated to ballot collection.
Volunteers have collected roughly 26,000 petitions, according to Weintraub, while paid petitioners in just two weeks’ time have gathered about 75,000.
Their expectation was 3,000 by the end of May.
The campaign hosts weekly trainings for volunteers and has “hubs” for ballot collection statewide.
These pick-up and drop-off hubs, hosted by volunteers, are located not just in the bigger, more liberal metro areas, but also in redder counties like Hernando, Collier, and St. Johns County — where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats more than two to one.
Advocates like Weintraub say the stakes couldn’t be higher. In April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
The six-week limit is contingent upon the outcome of a legal challenge to Florida’s 15-week abortion law, filed on the basis that it violates the state constitution’s right to privacy clause.
That lawsuit is still pending. As it stands today, abortion is legal in Florida up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for cases of rape, incest or human trafficking.
And the implications of abortion access in Florida go beyond state limits.
“People are sick of this disconnect between the legislature and the will of the people, and I think it’s gotten everyone fired up.”
Because neighboring states such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi have even stricter restrictions on the books, abortion clinics in Florida have seen a rising number of patients traveling from out of state.
Prior to the fall of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. had over two dozen “abortion deserts,” or major cities where someone would have to travel at least 100 miles to get an abortion.
As of May, Florida is home to 51 licensed abortion clinics, down from 71 in 2014.
Orlando is home to two: a Planned Parenthood clinic and a private clinic downtown that’s targeted by coordinated anti-abortion protesters nearly every day.
“We know that people are more aware than they’ve ever been that we need abortion to be explicitly named as a constitutionally protected right,” said Weintraub. “Everyone is watching.”
DeSantis, who's chummy with anti-abortion organizations while avoiding overtly committing himself to a ban, recently launched an expected bid for U.S. president, drawing even more attention to the Sunshine State.
Weintraub says volunteers have been gathering petitions at large events and other regularly attended venues — such as college campuses, libraries and nightclubs — as well as at community meetings and within their own personal circles.
“People are sick of this disconnect between the legislature and the will of the people,” she said, “And I think it’s gotten everyone fired up.”
Floridians can find information online to volunteer with the Floridians Protecting Freedom, or to print out petitions to either mail in or drop off at a local hub.
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