Abortion RightsAnalysis

Six-week abortion ban takes effect in Florida; in Arizona, total ban repealed; in both states, organizers put abortion rights on the ballot

A six-week abortion ban has taken effect in Florida, just 30 days after the April 1 Florida Supreme Court ruling that rejected legal challenges to the 15-week ban already in place. While a major blow to abortion access, the movement for reproductive rights has stepped up the fight, placing a measure on the November ballot to codify abortion rights in the state constitution, collecting over a million signatures. Meanwhile, in Arizona, two Republican lawmakers broke ranks and voted to repeal an 1864 abortion ban law, reflecting that a true majority of people support access to abortion. Meanwhile Arizona abortion rights activists are also placing a measure on the ballot for November to codify access to this important medical procedure.

The 15-week abortion ban in Florida was signed into law in 2022, but faced legal challenges in Florida courts. For decades, Florida courts have protected abortion rights under a broad interpretation of privacy protections in the state constitution. However, on April 1, the right-wing Florida Supreme Court rejected that long-standing interpretation, opting to uphold the 15-week ban. This decision also triggered the more recent six-week ban, signed into law in April 2023, to take effect on May 1, just 30 days after the ruling. 

This ruling by the Florida Supreme Court comes just two years after the outrageous and broadly unpopular repeal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court. Mirroring similar statistics across the country, over 65% of Floridians polled indicate support for abortion rights, a clear majority of the population. However, as the Dobbs decision demonstrated, these courts do not exist to promote the popular will nor protect the interests of working class people. Instead, they are anti-democratic institutions which serve to advance reactionary attacks on our hard-earned rights.

Florida’s latest ban is a major blow to regional abortion access

This ruling is a devastating blow for abortion rights in Florida and across the South. Until now, Florida has remained the closest point of access for abortion services for many women seeking abortion across the South. Similar 6-week bans have already been in effect in South Carolina and Georgia, while total bans are in place in many other states in the region including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Now, the nearest point of access for abortions beyond 6 weeks gestation in the entire Southeast is North Carolina, which allows abortions only until 12 weeks.

A six-week ban is effectively a total ban on abortion, as most pregnancies are still undetected at such an early stage. For those who are able to catch their pregnancies before 6 weeks, the logistical challenges of getting an appointment at and traveling to a clinic in Florida in time to legally get an abortion are likely to be insurmountable for many. In fact, even before the 6-week abortion ban took effect, these challenges to abortion access have been exceedingly difficult for working-class people across the South to overcome, due to high levels of poverty, poor transportation infrastructure, lack of job benefits including paid sick leave and lack of childcare. 

Taking the fight for abortion rights to the people

Instead of relying on empty campaign promises from the Democratic party, which has failed to codify abortion rights into law for decades, Florida activists have taken matters into their own hands.

Since the 2022 Dobbs decision, grassroots organizations to defend and expand abortion access have developed across the state. In 2023, these organizations collaborated to build “Floridians Protecting Freedom”, a robust campaign to get abortion on the ballot this coming November. The campaign collected 1.4 million voter signatures from across the state of Florida, surpassing the threshold needed to get on the ballot.

As a result of this successful petition drive, Florida voters will decide the future of abortion rights in the state. The abortion referendum, known as Amendment 4, would enshrine abortion rights up to 24 weeks in the state constitution. Organizers across the state are working to build support for Amendment 4, which will require 60% of voter support in order to pass.

In addition to waging the fight for Amendment 4, local abortion rights organizations like Pensacola Abortion Rights Taskforce are also working to educate people about remaining options for abortion access, including the “plan C” abortion pills, which can be self-administered and managed.

Republicans break ranks over unpopular abortion bans

Liberation photo

The battle for abortion rights is unfolding at the state level all across the country. Arizonans are feeling relief as promising developments unfold. On May 1 Governor Katie Hobbs signed a bill repealing the 1864 near-total ban on abortions after two Republican legistlators broke ranks to repeal the law that had the state Supreme Court had allowed to go into effect after the repeal of Roe v. Wade. With the repeal of this antiquated law, Arizona should go back to the 15-week ban that was instituted in 2022. However, the repeal of the1864 law will not go into effect until 90 days after the adjournment of the state legislature, which could be as late as October or November. 

As a result,the 1864 ban can technically begin being enforced in late June. Attorney General Kris Mayes has asked the highest court to block enforcement until late July and advocates are actively looking for other ways to delay enforcement even further. At the same time, Arizonans are feeling quite optimistic about the Arizona for Abortion Access ballot measure campaign, which proposes to make it a fundamental right to access abortion care up to fetal viability (~ 24 weeks of pregnancy). On April 2, the Arizona for Abortion Access ballot initiative announced that they had already received 506,892 petition signatures, surpassing the threshold by 122,000 signatures a full three months before the deadline to submit to the secretary of state. If approved in November, the ballot measure will supersede both the 1864 near-total ban and the 15-week ban.

On May 4 students and community members gathered at the University of Arizona in Tucson for a “Rally for Roe.” Speakers emphasized that they have had enough of Democrats and Republicans using working peoples’ bodily autonomy and life chances as a bargaining chip for their political careers. Attendees expressed that they are hopeful about the ballot measure prospects, but angry to be facing near total abortion bans and uncertain timelines, knowing abortion access could have been codified long ago if elected officials truly represented the interests of the working class.

Why did some Republicans break ranks with their anti-abortion colleagues? It’s not that Republicans have had a change of heart, but rather that their political calculations have changed. Arizona is expected to be an important battleground state in the 2024 elections, and Republicans are concerned about the role these anti-abortion policies might play in the outcome. These extreme abortion bans are deeply unpopular, and have the potential to impact election outcomes on their own.

That even some Arizona Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the attacks on reproductive rights reflects the popular support for abortion rights across all lines of division, including political parties. It also reflects the potential of the growing grassroots movement for abortion rights taking place across the country. This growing movement has become a factor in the political considerations of politicians across the state of Arizona.

The people will decide

Ultimately, it will be neither the Democrats nor the Republicans that defend our bodily autonomy, our healthcare, or our basic right to an abortion. It has always been the mass movements of working people which has won our rights and it will be no different this time. As long as these outrageous attacks on abortion rights continue, people across the U.S. will continue to join the fight to defend and advance those rights. 

Liberation News Staff in Tuscon, Arizona contributed to this article. 

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