In Florida, Kamala Harris put a spotlight on abortion politics

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Marilyn Halfling, 71, and Linda Darin, 72, hold signs on the corner of 3rd Street and Central Avenue in St. Petersburg on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. The women gathered to honor the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Daniel Figueroa IV/WMNF

By Dara Kam ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — As a Florida law took effect Wednesday preventing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, Vice President Kamala Harris campaigned in Jacksonville — another sign of the political importance of abortion issues in the 2024 elections.

Florida’s six-week law dramatically restricts access to abortions and aligns with similar laws enacted in Republican-led states throughout the South after a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the decades-old Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision.

Democrats have embraced abortion rights as a top-line issue heading into November, with candidates up and down the ballot blaming former President Donald Trump for the Supreme Court’s ruling. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee this year, appointed three justices who were part of the court majority that overturned Roe.

Harris hammered Trump throughout her roughly 20-minute speech at the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center in Jacksonville, warning that he would sign a national abortion ban into law if he defeats President Joe Biden.

“This is a fight for freedom. The fundamental freedom to make decisions about one’s own body and not have their government tell them what they’re supposed to do,” Harris said.

Critics of laws like the one approved in 2023 by the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis say the restrictions effectively equate to a near-ban on abortion, because many women are unaware they are pregnant at six weeks.

“As of this morning, 4 million women in this state woke up with fewer reproductive freedoms than they had last night. This is the new reality under a Trump abortion ban,” Harris said. “Starting this morning, women in Florida became subject to an abortion ban so extreme it applies before many women know they are pregnant. … This truly is a health care crisis, and Donald Trump is the architect.”

Harris’ Jacksonville trip came less than a week after Biden traveled to Tampa and discussed abortion rights.

Trump won Florida in 2016 and 2020, and Republicans have built a commanding voter-registration lead in the state. But the Biden campaign contends that the six-week abortion restriction, coupled with a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution, have put the state in play in 2024.

“Donald Trump may think he can take Florida for granted. It is your power that will send Joe Biden and me back to the White House. And when Congress passes a law that restores the reproductive freedoms of Roe, our president will sign it,” Harris said.

Republicans, however, shrugged off Democrats’ efforts to portray Florida as winnable for Biden.

“Joe Biden is losing in Florida, and he knows it. Despite Biden and Harris’s best attempts to gaslight voters, they know exactly who is to blame for soaring costs, a spiraling border crisis and staggering crime rates across the country,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Rachel Lee said.

Trump, meanwhile, has taken credit for the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in the case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which said that policies about abortion should be left to the states.

“President Trump has long been consistent in supporting the rights of states to make decisions on abortion. Joe Biden and the Democrats are radically out of touch with the majority of Americans in their support for abortion up until birth and even after birth and forcing taxpayers to fund it,” Trump campaign press secretary Karoline Leavitt said in a statement Wednesday.

Democrats hope the abortion issue will help drive turnout among women and younger voters and, in Florida, boost support for the proposed constitutional amendment. The abortion restrictions also have energized conservative Republicans and evangelical voters, who are throwing their support behind Trump and fighting the Florida ballot measure.

The proposal, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 4, says, “no law shall 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.” The measure, as with all proposed constitutional amendments, would require 60 percent voter approval to pass.

DeSantis on Tuesday railed against the proposal, saying it is vaguely worded and fails to define what a health care provider is.

“That amendment does not require a physician. You can have abortion up till the moment of birth without a physician being involved,” DeSantis said at an event in Tampa. “That is really, really extreme, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like that. And then I think when you have an amendment they want to go in Florida’s Constitution that will eliminate parental consent for minors — why would you take away parental consent? How is that something that people are going to want to do? “

As the six-week limit took effect Wednesday, Democrats held a number of press conferences, flew a banner over Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach residence, saying, “Trump’s Plan: Ban Abortion, Punish Women,” and launched billboards in English and Spanish linking Trump with the six-week restriction in Gainesville, Hollywood, Orlando and Tampa.

Harris painted a grim portrait of a second Trump term.

“More bans, more suffering, less freedom. But we are not going to let that happen, because you see we trust women, we trust women to know what is in their best interest and women trust us to fight to protect their most fundamental freedoms,” she said.

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