Florida voters to decide whether to protect abortion rights

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The Florida Supreme Court has put a referendum on abortion on the state’s ballot for November, which will make the Sunshine State a closely watched political battleground for reproductive freedom in a potential boost for Democrats in the US election.

The decision by Florida’s highest court on Monday means that voters will be asked if they want the right to an abortion until viability to be codified in the state’s constitution.

If the measure passes, it would nullify the state’s ban on abortion at 15 weeks of gestation, and an even stricter prohibition on abortion at six weeks of gestation that is due to take effect on May 1 — which was allowed to proceed by the court in a separate ruling on Monday.

Florida, which is home to former president Donald Trump and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, has been moving increasingly to the right in recent elections, to the point that it is no longer considered among the most competitive swing states.

But Democrats hope that a measure on the ballot to protect abortion will help boost turnout within their base, and allow them to win over moderate voters, especially women, and shift the dynamic.

Since the US Supreme Court in 2022 overturned Roe vs Wade, which protected the right to an abortion at the federal level across the country, some Republican-led states have raced to implement their own tough restrictions. At the same time ballot measures protecting abortion access have passed with overwhelming support in both conservative and swing states, from Kansas to Michigan.

“As we’ve seen in election after election, protecting abortion rights is mobilising a diverse and growing segment of voters to help buoy Democrats up and down the ballot,” Julie Chavez Rodriguez, campaign manager for US President Joe Biden’s re-election bid, wrote in a memo on Monday.

“Make no mistake: Florida is not an easy state to win, but it is a winnable one for President Biden, especially given Trump’s weak, cash-strapped campaign, and serious vulnerabilities within his coalition,” she said.

The Biden campaign has a tough hill to climb to make Florida competitive, however. In the 2020 election, Trump won Florida by 3 percentage points over Biden, while Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a little more than a percentage point in 2016. Two polls last month showed Trump winning by 6 and 7 percentage points, respectively, over Biden in the state.

Even if the abortion referendum is not enough to shift Florida to Biden, it could force Trump and Republicans to spend more money there, diverting resources from other states. Democrats, too, will have to decide how many chips to place on trying to flip Florida.

Even though Trump has boasted of appointing three of the US Supreme Court justices who ruled in favour of overturning abortion rights, he has recently tried to adopt a more moderate stance on the issue, saying he was considering a national ban at 15 weeks of gestation. Meanwhile, Biden has vowed to push for federal legislation protecting abortion rights.

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