Florida attorney general, against criticism, seeks to keep abortion rights amendment off 2024 ballot

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's Republican attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to keep a proposed abortion rights amendment off the ballot, saying proponents are waging “a war” to protect the procedure and ultimately will seek to expand those rights in future years.

But proponents of the proposed amendment said Attorney General Ashley Moody is playing politics and that her arguments fall legally short given what the call the clear and precise language of the proposed measure.

A group called Floridians Protecting Freedom has gathered nearly 500,000 of the 891,523 voter signatures needed ahead of a Feb. 1 deadline for signatures to put the proposal on the 2024 ballot. The state Supreme Court would be tasked with ensuring the ballot language isn’t misleading and applies to a single subject if it goes before voters.

The proposed amendment would allow abortions to remain legal until the fetus is viable. But Moody argued that abortion rights proponents and opponents have differing interpretations as to what viability means. Those differences along with the failure to define “health” and “health-care provider,” she said, are enough to deceive voters and potentially open a box of legal questions in the future.

“The ballot summary here is part of a ... design to lay ticking time bombs that will enable abortion proponents later to argue that the amendment has a much broader meaning than voters would ever have thought,” she argued in a 50-page brief.

She said while prior court decisions have used viability as a term meaning whether the fetus can survive outside the womb, “others will understand ‘viability’ in the more traditional clinical sense — as referring to a pregnancy that, but for an abortion or other misfortune, will result in the child’s live birth.”

Proponents disputed those statements.

“The proposed amendment is very clear and precise,” Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani said in a news release. “The term viability is a medical one, and in the context of abortion has always meant the stage of fetal development when the life of a fetus is sustainable outside the womb through standard medical measures.”

Moody also argued that language that allows abortions after the point of viability to protect the health of the mother do not distinguish between physical and mental health. She also said voters might assume a health-care provider is a doctor, but the amendment doesn't explicitly say so.

Republicans have dominated state politics and controlled the governor’s office and both branches of the Legislature since 1999. In that time, the state has consistently chipped away at abortion rights, including creating a waiting period before the procedure can be performed, parental notification if minors seek abortion and forcing women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion.

A law Gov. DeSantis approved last year banning abortion after 15 weeks is being challenged in court.

If the courts uphold the law — DeSantis appointed five of the Supreme Court’s seven justices — a bill DeSantis signed this year will ban abortion after six weeks, which is before many women know they are pregnant. DeSantis, who is running for president, has said he would support a federal abortion ban after 15 weeks.

If the amendment makes the ballot it will need at least 60% voter approval to take effect.