Floridians continue to wait, wonder if abortion protections will be on November ballot

'The closer we get to April 1, the more convinced I am that we're going to be on the ballot,' Anna Hochkammer says
Posted at 6:34 PM, Mar 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-28 18:34:43-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — April 1 looms as the potential day of reckoning for abortion protections in Florida. The state Supreme Court is weighing on whether to include it on the November ballot.

Despite widespread anticipation, the justices remained silent Thursday morning, issuing only a short statement: "No Florida Supreme Court opinions ready for release today…"

With a long weekend ahead, the resolution of this contentious initiative is now expected no sooner than Monday — the court's deadline.

If greenlit, the proposed ballot measure would permit abortions up to viability, approximately 24 weeks into pregnancy, with provisions for health and safety exceptions. Since Feb. 7, justices have scrutinized its 49-word summary to ensure voters understand its implications.

During February's oral arguments, Justice John Couriel laid bare what was at stake: "The question before us is — is this hiding a ball in some meaningful way? Or, should the voters say, 'Gee— that's really sweeping, we should not approve this?'"

Such remarks have buoyed the confidence of proponents as the deadline nears.

"The closer we get to April 1, the more convinced I am that we're going to be on the ballot," Anna Hochkammer, executive director for the Florida Women's Freedom Coalition, said. "I don't have any butterflies in my stomach."

Hochkammer is spearheading the Amendment Four campaign preparation, anticipating an extensive statewide effort encompassing digital, mail and grassroots communication.

"We expect it to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest electoral issue on the ballot in Florida in 2024," she said. "And we think we're gonna go down the ballot and win."

However, the initiative faces staunch opposition from anti-abortion advocates who criticize its sweeping nature, warning it could be dangerous.

"This amendment literally throws women into the back alleys of abortion," argued Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, last month. "It deregulates abortion. No law will stand if this amendment is passed— other than, possibly, parental notification."

Even Gov. Ron DeSantis weighed in Thursday, aligning with Attorney General Ashley Moody's contention that the initiative lacks clarity.

"Our Attorney General has handled that very ably," DeSantis affirmed during a South Florida press conference. "I think that she's made arguments that are very compelling. So, we will have to see what ends up happening and then we will go from there."

Should the court approve the ballot amendment, the battle will shift to the electorate. Florida mandates a 60% majority for approval, adding pressure as Election Day looms.

Court officials said in an email they couldn't offer more specifics on when we might know more, saying, "The timing of opinion releases are confidential."

They cautioned that decisions could emerge at any time, even over the weekend.

But abortion protections aren't the sole issue vying for a spot on the November ballot. Justices are also scrutinizing the ballot language for Amendment Three, which would legalize recreational marijuana in Florida.

If voters ratify Amendment Three, it will grant adults aged 21 and older "the right to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products" for non-medical personal consumption, including smoking or ingesting.

Similar to the abortion amendment, the justices appeared inclined toward approval during last year's November hearing.

Advocates, such as state Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, envision broader implications, including significant reform in criminal justice.

"What happens to those individuals who have been placed in jail for low amounts of marijuana— what happens to those individuals who probably have pending licenses?" asked Jones. "So there's just a ton of questions that's going to have to be answered. My hope is that the leaders who are in charge right now in the Legislature, that they're doing their due diligence now, so we're not scrambling in the end."

Although lawmakers attempted to preemptively set THC caps for recreational marijuana this session, the bill sputtered out before the Legislature gaveled out.

The same April 1 deadline looms for justices to decide on the marijuana initiative's inclusion on the November ballot.