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Florida Supreme Court orders state's 6-week abortion ban to go into effect May 1

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With two rulings issued late yesterday, Florida's Supreme Court has pretty much ensured that abortion will be the issue on the state's November ballot.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, the court is letting a law stand that bans abortions after 15 weeks. Now, that ruling also triggers a six-week abortion ban taking effect next month. But in a separate opinion, the court says a constitutional amendment protecting the right to an abortion will appear on the ballot in the general election. And that leaves the final say up to voters.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen is in Miami, and he's going to tell us more about all this. Good morning, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So let me start by asking, where do things stand now in Florida when it comes to abortion access?

ALLEN: Right. Well, with yesterday's 6-1 court decision, women can't get an abortion in Florida after 15 weeks, unless there's a fatal fetal abnormality or if it's necessary to prevent serious injury or to save the life of the mother. That law was passed in 2022 but didn't go into effect while there was a court challenge pending. Then last year, the Republican-dominated legislature passed another law which would ban abortions after six weeks, with the stipulation that it wouldn't go into effect unless and until 30 days after that earlier ban was approved, which has happened now. So that means Florida joins other states in the South by severely limiting the right to an abortion.

MARTIN: And at the same time, Florida's highest court now says abortion policy will go before the voters this fall. How did that come about?

ALLEN: Well, abortion rights groups started working on getting the issue on the ballot after lawmakers passed that 15-week ban. They gathered nearly a million signatures, which is more than enough to qualify. The language of the ballot measure, though, had to be approved by Florida's Supreme Court. And this is what the ballot measure says. No law should prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before viability or, when necessary, to protect the patient's health as determined by the patient's health care provider. Florida's attorney general argued that the language was vague and misleading. But in a narrow 4-3 decision, the court said it was OK and would go on the ballot.

MARTIN: You know, and there's some precedent here - states that have put abortion on the ballot, abortion rights supporters have consistently won. So what are the anti-abortion activists in Florida planning to do now in Florida?

ALLEN: Well, it looks like there's going to be an effort to block this by getting voters to block this. Florida's House Speaker Paul Renner, a Republican, says there will be an organized campaign to defeat the constitutional amendment. He says it'll be aimed at people that he believes are in the political middle of the abortion debate. Here's what Renner says about the proposed amendment.

PAUL RENNER: It is extreme in its scope. It is the product of, really, abortion-rights activists who have crafted this well beyond where most Floridians will find themselves, including Floridians who would consider themselves pro-choice.

ALLEN: Renner says he thinks Florida's soon-to-take-effect six-week ban should be considered a moderate approach, in his view, because it allows exceptions for fetal abnormalities and to protect the life of the mother.

MARTIN: And briefly, do you think - do people think that having abortion on the ballot will affect other key races in November, including the presidential election?

ALLEN: Well, that certainly is the big question. In places where abortion has been on the ballot - I'm thinking of Kansas, Ohio and Kentucky, to name a few - voters have overwhelmingly supported abortion rights. It's also boosted turnout. Donald Trump won Florida in 2020 by more than three percentage points, while losing nationally, of course. But certainly, having abortion on the ballot changes expectations about who will be coming out to vote in November.

Another key race is Republican Senator Rick Scott's bid for reelection. Now, he's more vulnerable. He's facing former Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Scott accuses her of extremism on the issue. But even before this ruling, Mucarsel-Powell has been targeting Scott for his strong anti-abortion stance. And she points to comments he's made - that if he was still governor, he would have signed the six-week abortion ban.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Greg, thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Greg Allen
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.