Florida Supreme Court approves 15-week pro-life law, allows abortion amendment on ballot  — By: Catholic News Agency

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 1, 2024 / 18:05 pm (CNA).

The Florida Supreme Court ruled to allow the state’s 15-week abortion ban to take effect while also allowing a broad abortion amendment to be added to the November ballot. 

The separate rulings uphold Florida’s 15-week abortion ban while also clearing the path for a proposal that opponents say could invalidate almost all the state’s pro-life laws and enshrine abortion up till the moment of birth in the state.

One of the rulings upholds Florida’s 15-week pro-life law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022. In this decision, the court ruled 6-1 that abortion is not covered in the state’s right to privacy clause. This clears the path for the state’s six-week Heartbeat Protection Act, which is currently blocked, to also take effect in 30 days. 

At the same time, a separate 4-3 decision found that the Limiting Government Interference with Abortion Amendment proposal meets the state’s qualifications of being worded clearly and concerned with only one issue, stipulations that opponents argued the amendment did not meet.

If passed, the amendment would change the Florida Constitution to include a provision reading: “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 health care provider.”

In its ruling, the Florida Supreme Court cited an earlier decision to state that it “does not have the authority or responsibility to rule on the merits or the wisdom of these proposed initiative amendments” and said that “in the end, the ballot title and summary fairly inform voters, in clear and unambiguous language, of the chief purpose of the amendment and they are not misleading.”

“We conclude that the proposed amendment complies with the single-subject requirement of article XI, section 3 of the Florida Constitution and that the ballot title and summary comply with section 101.161(1), Florida Statutes. And there is no basis for concluding that the proposed amendment is facially invalid under the United States Constitution,” the court said. “Accordingly, we approve the proposed amendment for placement on the ballot.”

With its path to the ballot now cleared, the fate of Florida’s six-week, 15-week, and several other pro-life laws will be decided by voters on Nov. 5.

What’s at stake?

Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and an attorney who argued before the state Supreme Court against including the proposal, told CNA that the amendment’s wording is dangerously misleading and if passed would void all Florida’s pro-life laws, including those post-viability and in the third trimester.

“The language that the voter reads does not apprise the voter how broad this amendment is, that every law will be gone, including health and safety regulations,” he said. “The voter has no clue that by saying yes, they’re abolishing all the laws, including [those concerned with] health and safety.”

Though the amendment specifically targets pre-viability pro-life laws, Staver said that the amendment’s vague wording would effectively allow abortions till birth in Florida.

“After viability, any law that you would pass, like for late-term abortion, can be overridden because it provides a health care provider with veto power over any post-viability law if the health care provider deems it necessary to protect the health of the woman,” he explained. “A health care provider can say, for any reason, health not being defined, includes everything, for any reason: ‘This law cannot prohibit abortion.’”

According to Staver, the amendment also allows for a broad definition of health care provider, which he said can include “a tattoo artist, a 911 operator, orthotic fitter, orthotic fitter assistant,” and many more.  

Julia Friedland, a representative for DeSantis, also blasted the amendment, saying it was misleading.

“We agree with the three women on the court who got it right in dissent,” Friedland told CNA. “This amendment is misleading and will confuse voters. The language hides the amendment’s true purpose of mandating that abortions be permitted up to the time of birth.”

Bishops urge Floridians to vote ‘no’

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement shortly after the ruling decrying the court’s decision and urging Floridians to oppose the amendment. 

“We are greatly dismayed that the Florida Supreme Court did not reject this deceptively-worded amendment and that it will appear on the November 2024 ballot,” the bishops said. “If passed, the amendment to our state constitution would put the most innocent of human lives in grave danger until the moment of birth and would eliminate gains made over the past several decades to protect women from the harms of abortion, including health and safety protocols at abortion facilities.” 

The bishops went on to say that they ”will work hard to oppose this cruel and dangerous amendment and urge all Floridians to vote ‘no’ on Amendment 4.”

The Florida bishops have long opposed the amendment and submitted a brief to the state Supreme Court in November 2023 that argued the proposal’s title “misleadingly suggests that the amendment ‘limits’ government interference when it bans all regulation before viability.”

Angela Curatalo, director of the Respect Life Office at the Archdiocese of Miami, told CNA that is extreme, deceptive, and “absolutely harmful to Floridians.” 

“Voters need to know what it actually does,” Curatalo said. “What it would actually do is remove all regulation totally and not ‘limit’ it. This would mean legalizing abortion in Florida up to the moment of birth, anytime and for any reason.”  

She explained that the amendment would also “remove the Parental Consent Prior to a Minor’s Abortion law in the state of Florida, taking away a parent’s right to oversight of their child’s health and well-being” and “would nullify regulations for safe and sanitary practices and voluntary informed consent prior to an abortion, among other things.” 

Curatalo pointed to the archdiocese’s three pregnancy centers and other pro-life efforts to say that while the abortion industry offers the “violence and horror of abortion,” the pro-life movement is “here to assist pregnant women and their families.”

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