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Let Florida voters decide abortion rights question | Editorial

People gather outside the Florida Supreme Court, where justices heard arguments on a proposed ballot issue regarding abortion on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024 in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida's attorney general asked the state Supreme Court to keep an abortion-rights measure off Nov.'s ballot. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)
People gather outside the Florida Supreme Court, where justices heard arguments on a proposed ballot issue regarding abortion on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024 in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida’s attorney general asked the state Supreme Court to keep an abortion-rights measure off Nov.’s ballot. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)
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The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday over whether a proposed constitutional amendment that would protect reproductive freedom should make it onto the November ballot.

It’s noteworthy that justices spent so little time discussing the thin and unconvincing arguments ֱ General Ashley Moody put forward in her attempt to block the amendment. That exposes the truth: Moody is asking the court to swing an ax directly at the heart of Floridians’ rights to speak directly to issues of utmost importance to them, and she did not make a convincing case.

Abortion clearly ranks at the top of those issues, and Florida voters have said as much, multiple times on previous ballot questions. It’s ridiculous to assert, as Moody does, that they don’t see the ramifications behind concepts like viability (the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb) along with the legal definitions of “health care” and “health care provider.” Or that they don’t understand what this amendment could do.

‘The people aren’t stupid’

: “The people of Florida aren’t stupid. I mean, they can figure this out.”

That’s clear to anyone who actually reads the language of , if the court approves. It says lawmakers can’t make laws that restrict abortion rights, with two important carveouts. This amendment doesn’t apply to laws that require parental notice when a minor seeks an abortion, and it doesn’t speak to laws that govern abortions post-viability.

This tracks with prevailing opinions on abortion. Most Floridians, Republicans and Democrats alike, support the right of adults to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy in the first two trimesters.

The Supreme Court’s role is not to weigh the merits of ballot initiatives, but only to consider legal issues such as whether the ballot language is clear to voters. Justices look at ballot titles and summaries.

Courtney Brewer, an attorney who represents the political committee Floridians Protecting Freedom, which is sponsoring the ballot initiative, told justices that the proposed wording is clear.

“Voters understand what is before them, and if a voter doesn’t like this amendment, they are perfectly capable of voting against it,” she said. “The sponsor followed the framework, established in other cases and the Constitution, using the same understandable language in the summary and the amendment and addressing only one subject. The people of Florida should be able to exercise their voice and vote on this amendment.”

But Nathan Forrester, a senior deputy solicitor general in Moody’s office, called the proposal “ambiguously broad.”

Florida’s deserve to have their voices heard on this issue.

That would be true even if the Legislature didn’t seem hell-bent on restricting abortion access in every way possible, through laws and pending legislation that would ban abortion very early in pregnancy and punish those who attempt to circumvent that ban.

A chilling note

Many observers picked up on a line of questioning Muñiz pursued, touching on what would happen if the Legislature or the Supreme Court took the massive step of conveying “personhood” on embryos or fetuses.

That’s alarming, given that the question of granting fundamental rights to pre-viability fetuses was not before the court in any way.

Still, even abortion opponents should recognize that backers of this amendment have met all requirements to be on the 2024 ballot.

The implications of Moody’s legal arguments go far beyond the question of abortion. If the court grants her request, the standard for reviewing ballot questions will shift dramatically.

The court should focus on the high barrier that law and precedent have set: Is the ballot question shorter than 75 words; does it address a single subject and does the summary accurately reflect what the amendment says it would do?

That last question is where Moody focused her argument. She contends that the ballot summary (which, in this case, is nearly identical to the wording that would go into the constitution) is inaccurate because it doesn’t include every possible outcome the amendment might have. That’s a virtually impossible barrier to overcome, no matter what the subject of a proposed ballot question.

As Justice John Couriel observed, “You’re saying this is a wolf, and a wolf it may be. But it seems our job is to answer whether this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That’s all we get to do.”

Let voters decide

The backers of the abortion amendment have met the legal standards to get the question on the 2024 ballot. Those who want to smother the voices of Florida voters are asking the high court to crush that precedent.

“The people of Florida should be able to exercise their voice and vote on this amendment,” Brewer said.

That’s the issue before the court, and those who oppose it have no credible or legal argument to silence that voice. The seven justices are expected to rule by April 1.

The ֱ Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Opinion Editor Dan Sweeney, editorial writer Martin Dyckman and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at letters@sun-sentinel.com.

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