Abortion rights activists rally in Florida as issue moves to center of U.S. election

By Thomson Reuters Apr 13, 2024 | 1:40 PM

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – Thousands of reproductive rights supporters rallied on Saturday in Florida to support a voter referendum that would enshrine abortion protections into the state constitution, an effort Democrats hope will boost their chances to win the Southern state in November’s presidential election.

Activists in Arizona – where a similar ballot measure campaign is ongoing – have announced a rally on Sunday in Scottsdale to protest the decision from the state’s highest court on Tuesday reviving a 160-year-old abortion ban.

The weekend events cap a whirlwind few days that thrust abortion back to the forefront of the presidential campaign between Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump. Arizona is likely to be a crucial swing state in November’s vote, and the state will also host one of the country’s most competitive U.S. Senate contests.

The issue of abortion has bedeviled Republicans since 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority – including three Trump appointees – reversed five decades of precedent and eliminated a nationwide right to abortion.

Democrats this week immediately seized on the court’s decision, which found that an 1864 near-total ban should supersede a 15-week limit that Republican state lawmakers passed in 2022. The Biden campaign dispatched Vice President Kamala Harris to Arizona on Friday, where she said Trump bore responsibility for the ruling.

Trump has sought to distance himself from the decision, saying the court went too far and urging the Republican-controlled legislature to repeal the 1864 ban. But Republican leaders blocked a Democratic effort to do so on Wednesday, noting the law would not take effect for weeks and saying they did not want to rush.

At Saturday’s rally in Orlando, one speaker after another offered emotional accounts of their experiences with abortion.

Derick Cook, a Florida resident, described how his wife finally got pregnant after multiple miscarriages. But a complication at 16 weeks meant her fetus would not survive and threatened her life. Florida had enacted a 15-week abortion limit a few weeks before.

“The doctor told us that because of the ban, there was nothing he could do to help,” Cook said, even though the law allows abortions when the mother’s life is at risk.

Cook’s wife, Anya, delivered the fetus in a hair salon the next day and nearly died at the hospital from blood loss, he said.

The story, which Cook has previously shared publicly, was reminiscent of a hard-hitting advertisement the Biden campaign began airing this week, featuring a Texas woman who almost died after being denied an abortion and blaming Trump.

Most state bans, including in Arizona, contain exceptions to protect the mother’s life. But reproductive rights advocates say doctors are reluctant to test those exceptions in cases that are not clear-cut emergencies.

In Florida, the state Supreme Court earlier this month cleared the way for a six-week abortion ban to take effect on May 1. While Florida has voted Republican in recent elections, the Biden campaign has argued that abortion has put the state back in play for November.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis)