Local leaders respond to potential Roe reversal

Local leaders and activists reacted Tuesday to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, likely pushing abortion to the forefront of local, state and national politics for the foreseeable future.

“Ask every candidate for every office how they feel about access to legal abortion before you vote,” Gainesville Commissioner Harvey Ward, who is running for mayor, wrote on Facebook. “Don’t take it for granted. Make it a straight-up litmus test. I do.”

News of the potential landmark decision broke Monday night when Politico published a leaked draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a Mississippi abortion provider challenging the state’s limit on abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy. Alito wrote that Roe was “egregiously wrong from the start” and should be reversed.

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Adherence to precedent “is the norm but not an inexorable command,” Alito wrote. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

The “first draft” opinion, dated Feb. 10, will very likely undergo changes as part of the deliberative process, but the reaction in Florida still came swiftly.

“As your Mayor, I will always work to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Gainesville Commissioner David Arreola wrote on Facebook. “Let’s be clear: no abortion ban!”

Gainesville City Commissioner David Arreola
Commissioner David Arreola

Arreola announced his run for mayor in December. In October, he brought a non-binding resolution—Support of Advancing Reproductive Freedom—before the city commission, which Ward seconded.

The resolution declares the commission’s support of abortion rights and desire to explore options for advancing those rights along with local stakeholders.

At the time, Arreola thanked organizations that were preparing for the Legislature’s session, where a 15-week abortion ban would be under consideration. The resolution passed 4-0 with Commissioners Reina Saco and Desmon Duncan-Walker absent.

Both Arreola and Ward linked the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade with upcoming elections. Bryan Eastman, a candidate for Gainesville’s district 4 seat, also made the connection, saying the next commission could have “real choices” to make on the issue.

“Ensure your next commissioners support a woman’s right to choose, and will do what it takes to ensure this fundamental right is done safely by medical professionals,” Eastman wrote on Facebook.

While angry Democrats planned their next steps, Republicans praised the document and the indication that the court will overturn Roe.

“Allowing the law to catch up to our advanced medical knowledge will ensure the American people have a say in this issue,” tweeted Republican U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, who represents Gainesville. “As a Co-Chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus and someone with a very personal pro-life story myself, I will always stand for life and proudly defend this most fundamental right afforded to us in the United States.”

Rep. Kat Cammack
Rep. Kat Cammack

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott joined the chorus of Republicans who blasted the leak as an effort to undermine the Supreme Court.

If the court does overturn Roe, the abortion issue would return to the states, where Florida would fall in the middle of the pack, according to a New York Times analysis of state laws. At least 16 states have laws explicitly making abortion legal, four at any stage of pregnancy, while 13 have a so-called trigger ban that would become law if a Roe reversal occurs.

In Florida, abortion would be legal up until 15 weeks, based on legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month. But the standard may not remain there under the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“I have long believed Roe v. Wade represents an abuse of power to manufacture law by judicial fiat,” tweeted Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Republican. “I eagerly await the official & final opinion issued by the Court.”

Mark Minck, state chairman for Protect Human Life Florida, said he hopes the Legislature will take further action.

“As a citizen of the state of Florida, I think we can do better than just a 15-week ban,” said Minck, a Newberry-based activist whose nonprofit tried unsuccessfully to place a constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot that would have given a right to life to all human beings as soon as a heartbeat is detected.

Minck said the group plans to try again if the Legislature keeps the current 15-week standard, noting the vast majority of Florida’s 79,648 abortions in 2021 happened within the first trimester.

While DeSantis did not directly address the issue in the first 24 hours after the leak, his opponents in the governor’s race were quick to pounce. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, a former Republican and independent who is running for governor as a Democrat, touted his record on abortion, while Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried held a Freedom to Choose Rally in Miami.

“The women of our country are under direct attack by right-wing radicals,” Fried tweeted. “Overturning the freedom over our bodies is unconstitutional, unacceptable, and taking us back to a dark, dark time.”

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