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Abortion measure meets signature requirements

Abortion rights supporters protested a bill that would prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
Tom Urban
News Service of Florida
Abortion rights supporters protested a bill that would prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ensuring abortion rights in Florida have submitted enough valid petition signatures to get on the November ballot, a key step in what could become the state’s biggest political battle this year.

The Florida Division of Elections website Friday morning showed that 910,946 valid signatures had been tallied for the proposal, which is sponsored by the political committee Floridians Protecting Freedom. That topped a requirement of submitting 891,523 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

RELATED: Pensacola group is part of a statewide effort to put abortion rights on 2024 ballot

Also, Floridians Protecting Freedom met a requirement to meet signature thresholds in at least half of the state’s 28 congressional districts. Unofficial totals on the Division of Elections website showed that the committee exceeded the thresholds in 17 of the 28 districts.

Now, the focus will shift to the Florida Supreme Court, which has to sign off on the wording of proposed ballot initiatives. The court has scheduled a Feb. 7 hearing on the abortion initiative, which Attorney General Ashley Moody and other opponents are trying to keep off the ballot.

“Make no mistake: we will put abortion on the ballot in 2024 and take back the rights that have been stolen,” Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie, said Friday in a post on the social-media site X.

But Moody and the other opponents are urging the Supreme Court to block the measure, contending it would be misleading to voters — an argument that initiative supporters dispute.

The Supreme Court will review the proposed ballot summary and title, the wording that voters see when they go to the polls. The proposed ballot summary 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.”

RELATED: Here's the current state of abortion rights in Florida

Moody and other opponents have raised a series of objections, including contending that the word “viability” can have multiple meanings.

Floridians Protecting Freedom announced the initiative in May after the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a law that could prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The six-week limit is contingent on the outcome of a legal battle about a 15-week abortion limit that DeSantis and lawmakers passed in 2022. The 15-week case also is pending at the Florida Supreme Court.

The proposed constitutional amendment has come amid the backdrop of ballot fights in other states after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling left abortion decisions to states.

If the Florida Supreme Court signs off on the wording, the Floridians Protecting Freedom initiative is almost certain to spur a fierce — and expensive — political battle. The six-week limit approved this spring by lawmakers and DeSantis would largely halt abortions in Florida, where a reported 72,087 abortions were performed during the first 11 months of 2023, according to state Agency for Health Care Administration data.

The petition-gathering process is complicated and costly, and Floridians for Protecting Freedom faced a Feb. 1 deadline for meeting the requirements. It had raised $8.91 million for the initiative as of Sept. 30, while spending $8.79 million as it worked to collect signatures. It will have to file an updated finance report by a Wednesday deadline.

The signature totals posted Friday morning on the Division of Elections website showed that the largest number of valid signatures, 54,277, had been collected in Congressional District 14 in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Meanwhile, 45,673 had been collected in Congressional District 10 in Orange County, and 45,268 had been collected in Congressional District 21 in Martin, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties.

Jim Saunders - News Service of Florida