A year after the momentous ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and wiping away the constitutional framework that guaranteed access to abortion for five decades, the repercussions are continuing — and in many ways intensifying.
Abortions are harder to get. Abortions are down nationally. More restrictions are on the way.
In Florida, it takes longer to get an abortion than it used to.
And strict new limits, enacted this year by Gov. Ron DeSantis and most Republicans in the Florida Legislature, haven’t yet gone into effect.
If the Florida Supreme Court, where five of seven justices are DeSantis appointees, overturns its own precedent the way the U.S. Supreme Court did and greenlights additional restrictions, the new law would ban virtually all abortions in the state after the sixth week of pregnancy.
“I think it is really a terrible time,” said Florida Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, a Broward Democrat and prominent advocate for abortion rights.
Yet even as anti-abortion activists celebrate the one-year anniversary of the June 24, 2002, Dobbs decision on Saturday, political energy and momentum has shifted in many ways toward supporters of abortion rights.
Proponents of abortion rights are mobilizing, and say they’ve found widespread and energetic support in the last year. Hoping to harness political energy from people jolted into action by the end Roe, they’re working on multiple fronts to restore some abortion access that’s been eliminated and forestall further reductions — and develop long-term civic engagement by people who are now tuned in — in a way that’s reminiscent of the anti-abortion movement’s decades-long battle to overturn Roe.
“We now, after Dobbs, live in a different world,” said Emma Collum, a Broward lawyer and political activist involved in the effort to get a proposed amendment enshrining abortion rights in the state Constitution on the 2024 Florida ballot.
Book, who was arrested at an abortion rights demonstration in the state capital earlier this year (charges were dropped), said the overturning of Roe and new restrictions implemented in the last year will politically backfire on Republicans who implemented them.
“They have done too much. I think they’re gluttonous,” she said. Ultimately, she said, “we know more and more and more women will die and suffer.”
Tewannah Aman, executive director of Broward Right to Life, applauded the changes since the overturning of Roe allowed states to implement more restrictive policies. “The world has become very desensitized to life and the value of human life,” Aman said. “I think that the wonderful thing is that we don’t have the federal mandate saying it’s OK to have an abortion.”
Until July 1, 2022, abortion was legal in Florida until the 24th week of pregnancy. That’s generally the point of fetal viability, when a fetus can live outside the womb.
Starting in July, abortion restrictions passed last year by the Republican Legislature and signed into law by DeSantis banned almost all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
This year, DeSantis and lawmakers further tightened restrictions, banning almost all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. Illustrating the divide over the issue are the perspectives from supporters and opponents: Proponents said six weeks is about the time fetal heartbeats can be detected. Opponents said most women don’t yet know they’re pregnant at six weeks.
The newest law would permit later abortions to save a pregnant woman’s life and after six weeks and up to 15 weeks in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking.
Implementation of the six-week ban is contingent on the outcome of a case challenging the 15-week ban that is pending in the state Supreme Court. An opinion could be issued at any time.
Andrew Shirvell, founder and executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, is impatient for action. He said via email the Supreme Court “appears to be taking as long as possible to reach a decision.”
A coalition of abortion-rights and progressive organizations formed Floridians Protecting Freedom, an effort to get an amendment to the state Constitution on the 2024 ballot in Florida.
The effort launched on May 8, and said this week it has already gathered 240,000 petition signatures.
The organization’s goal is 1 million signatures by the end of 2023. It takes 891,523 valid petition signatures by Feb. 1, 2024, (and approval of the question’s wording from the Florida Supreme Court) to get on the general election ballot next year.
The higher number and self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline accounts for the certainty that some signatures won’t be valid and the time required for county elections offices to validate the signatures by the deadline.
Volunteers have gathered signatures at big events, such as community festivals and farmer’s markets. They say they’ve also had lots of success at smaller gatherings — including book clubs and, recently, family Father’s Day gatherings.
Rebecca Thompson, president of Broward Young Democrats, said she keeps a folder with petitions in her car so she can ask people to sign them wherever she goes. She’s gathered signatures from other moms when she brings her children to play dates.
Volunteers aren’t sufficient to gather, process and ensure the accuracy of a sufficient number of petitions. And the group pushing the referendum has to pay for signature verification at county elections offices.
The undertaking is expensive. Through May, organizers have raised $2.8 million, mostly from a handful of large donors, and spent $2.1 million, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state.
Groups supporting the effort include the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and Equality Florida.
The anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America has said passage of the amendment would “impose an extreme abortion regime” and decried what it called “the pro-abortion left’s war on women, children and parents.”
If the amendment gets on the ballot in 2024, it needs to receive 60% of the vote to pass.
The Christian Family Coalition, based in Miami-Dade County, warned in email to supporters celebrating “Dobbs Day” that gains “are in jeopardy as the abortion industry and its allies mount a multimillion-dollar ballot initiative campaign to enshrine abortion into our state constitution.”
Shirvell said he’s skeptical about the numbers of petitions collected so far for the referendum by what he said in an email is “the Florida abortion industry.”
He said election officials “examine those signatures carefully to make sure they are valid.” Collum said organizers are already doing that, and so far 94% of their petitions are valid. When the petitions are turned in, she said, volunteers examine them to make sure everything is completed correctly. If there are issues, activists attempt to reach signers to get them to make corrections or fill out new petitions.
In the first five months of the year, the state Agency For Healthcare Administration reports 33,010 abortions have been performed in Florida. That compares with 82,581 during all of 2022 and 79,817 in 2021.
Out-of-state residents had 2,980 abortions in the first five months of the year, compared to 6,726 for all of 2022 and 4,873 in 2021.
Nationally, the number of abortions decreased in states with new restrictions and increased elsewhere as some, but not all women traveled for the procedures, Dr. Alison H. Norris of the Ohio Policy Evaluation Network at The Ohio State University said in a video briefing for reporters.
Overall, there were 25,000 fewer abortions than expected in the U.S. in the nine months since Roe was overturned, Norris said.
Florida, where the 15-week ban took effect July 1, still provides more access than many other states in the south. Norris said the monthly abortion numbers in Florida increased starting around the time of the Dobbs decision.
As a result of women from other states seeking abortions coming to Florida, Book said providers in Florida are facing much heavier demand and have much longer waits than they used to.
Repeated public opinion polls show that Floridians, and Americans in general, favor abortion access.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute surveyed Americans about abortion legality and related issues from March through December 2022. It found that 64% of Floridians believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases and 8% say abortion should be illegal in all cases.
PRRI found 34% of Floridians support overturning Roe.
An NBC News poll released this week found a similar result nationwide: 36% of voters nationwide approve of the overturning of Roe.
Overturning Roe was opposed by 61% of voters, including 53% who strongly disapprove.
Majorities of a range of demographic groups disapproved over the overturning of Roe: men; women; suburban women; Black, Hispanic and white voters; Democrats and independents.
The only group in the NBC News poll that supported overturning Roe was Republicans.
The continuing battle over abortion could have significant implications for the 2024 elections.
Fivethirtyeight.com, which specializes in data analysis to explain political trends, concluded that the Dobbs ruling has turned into a liability for Republicans.
Democrats see it the same — as a way to mobilize supporters, and paint Republicans as pushing a major policy agenda that runs counter to what most people want.
The Democratic National Committee just launched a campaign of ads on Facebook, Instagram and streaming services and billboards in Florida and several other states to highlight the issue. National Democratic leaders held a news conference to highlight the issue on Wednesday and Florida Democrats did the same on Thursday. On Friday, three major reproductive rights organizations endorsed President Joe Biden’s re-election.
DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said the Supreme Court decision “opened the door for MAGA Republicans at every level of government to take away the right of women and their families to make their own healthcare decision.”
Harrison ran through the anti-abortion stands of the major Republican presidential candidates, including DeSantis and former President Donald Trump. Political strategists have said DeSantis’ stand may help him win support of Republican primary voters.
But Book and other Democrats said it would hurt him, or any other Republican in a general election.
As the anniversary approached, Democrats have been talking a lot about the issue — but Republicans haven’t done as much to draw attention to the topic.
Nathalia Medina, of the Republican Party of Florida, discounted the notion that Democrats could be advantaged and Republicans hurt by the issue.
“Floridians celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to rightfully have the states decide abortion policy,” Medina via email.
“Judging by our tremendous increase in voter registration advantage,” and attaching a bar chart showing Democrats losing their advantage in Florida registered voters and Republicans pulling ahead and increasing their lead, Medina said “many Florida voters agree with Republican leadership.
Thompson said when people begin to see for themselves, or learn from friends and loved ones, about the impact of tightening restrictions, it will turn into a voting force that would have an impact at the polls.
“I think it has to, unfortunately, slowly hit people like that,” she said. “I think there is not going to be that outrage until it starts personally impacting people.”
When that happens, “you’re going to find people coming out in droves,” Book said. “When they’ve realized what has been done, it’s going to come back to roost.”
Collum said she’s already starting to see greater political impact and involvement — especially among younger voters — as more people learn how the overturning of Roe is impacting what happens in Florida.
“This has awoken something in them, awoken a need to be civically involved. They are going to come out and vote,” she said. “Inadvertently this may have awoken a sleeping bear.”
On the anniversary
Abortion-rights supporters have nine “We Won’t Go Back” events scheduled for Saturday in Florida. Among them is an “Anniversary of Dobbs Reproductive Freedom Rally and Petition Drive” starting at noon Saturday at the Pride Center at Equality Park, 2040 Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors.
Anti-abortion activists are keeping a lower profile. Florida Voice for the Unborn has one Florida event planned for a Jacksonville suburb, its “First Annual Dobbs Day Banquet and Workshop.” It’s a ticketed event. Shirvell said no elected officials have been invited and it wouldn’t be open to news coverage.
This report includes information from the News Service of Florida.
Anthony Man can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @browardpolitics and on Post.news/@browardpolitics