Florida Supreme Court allows abortion ban to take effect, referendum to appear on ballot


Florida's Supreme Court on Monday upheld the state's 15-week abortion ban while paving the way for a pro-abortion ballot measure to go before voters in November. 

In a 6-1 ruling, the court ruled the Florida Constitution does not contain a right to elective abortion, overruling a 1989 decision determining that the state's right to privacy protected a right to abortion.

The opinion will enable a statute banning abortions "if the physician determines the gestational age of the fetus is more than 15 weeks" to remain in effect.

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Justice Jamie Grosshans, appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, authored the opinion, writing that "[c]onsistent with longstanding principles of judicial deference to legislative enactments, we conclude there is no basis under the Privacy Clause to invalidate."

"In doing so, we recede from our prior decisions in which — relying on reasoning the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected — we held that the Privacy Clause guaranteed the right to receive an abortion through the end of the second trimester," the opinion states.

Chief Justice Carlos Muniz, Justices Charles Canady, John Couriel, Renatha Francis and Meredith Sasso also formed the majority opinion. Justice Jorge Labarga, appointed to the bench by former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, authored the dissent.

"It is an irrefutable effect of today's decision that chapter 2023- 21, Laws of Florida, also known as the Heartbeat Protection Act, will take effect in short order," Labarga stated in his dissent.

Labarga noted that a measure banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at around six weeks gestation, automatically takes effect 30 days after any "decision by this court holding that Florida's constitutional right to privacy does not include a right to abortion."

In a separate 4-3 ruling Monday, the Florida Supreme Court approved the placement of an "Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion" on the ballot in November.

In this decision, Canady, Labarga, Couriel and Muniz rejected the argument from Florida's Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody and pro-life organizations, including Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, that the ballot measure violates the single-subject requirement for such initiatives. Francis, Grosshans and Sasso dissented. 

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America State Policy Director Katie Daniel praised what she called "the victory for unborn children who have a heartbeat and can feel pain," saying the ruling is "in line with the views of the majority of Floridians who want to protect babies and serve mothers and families."

"As Florida faces what may be its biggest ballot fight yet, Gov. Ron DeSantis must be at the forefront of protecting Florida from Big Abortion's attempt to eliminate the rights of unborn children, parents, women, and girls," Daniel said. "Gov. DeSantis signed protections for babies who feel pain and have a heartbeat into law and now he must lead in defending those protections."

The ballot measure, which will go before voters as Amendment 4, states that "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." 

Daniel argues that Amendment 4 will "bring dangerous late-term abortions back to Florida" and "allow girls who aren't old enough to get their ears pierced on their own [to] get an abortion without a parent's okay." 

"Those girls and the women who have abortions will be put at risk when this measure eliminates every abortion health regulation on the books," she added. "In a state where 25% of abortion centers failed inspections it's no surprise they want to be completely unregulated to increase their profits at the expense of women, girls, and babies."

Sara Latshaw, deputy political director of the ACLU of Florida, which supports Amendment 4, praised the court's ruling as "a triumph for democracy in Florida."

"In the face of a six-week abortion ban, Floridians now have the chance to assert their will at the ballot box, shaping a Florida that is free from government interference in abortion," she said in a statement. 

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said in a statement she is "pleased that Florida's laws protecting preborn children were upheld" but lamented that "the court is allowing an extreme and detrimental ballot measure to move forward."

"Florida has made tremendous advances in protecting innocent human life and providing support for mothers," Tobias said, adding, "this ballot initiative would destroy Floridians' hard work in creating a culture that supports and protects life."

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that determined that the U.S. Constitution did not contain a right to abortion, voters in several states have approved ballot measures similar to Amendment 4 that establish a right to abortion in their respective state constitutions.

In 2022, voters in California, Michigan and Vermont approved ballot measures making abortion a constitutional right in their respective states. Ohio voters followed suit a year later. 

Unlike in other states that have held similar referendums on abortion, Amendment 4 must receive at least 60% support from voters in order to take effect as opposed to a simple majority. While the pro-abortion ballot measures cleared the 60% threshold in the overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning states of California and Vermont, they failed to achieve that level of support in the swing state of Michigan and the Republican-leaning Ohio. 

A poll of 716 registered voters conducted from Nov. 6-26, 2023, by the University of North Florida found that 62% of Florida voters planned on voting in favor of the pro-abortion ballot measure while 29% intended to vote against it. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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