Fla. Attorney General Ashley Moody tries to sow confusion over abortion vote

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Florida’s attorney general is trying to scuttle a voter initiative that would override Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempt to outlaw abortions in the state beyond the sixth week of pregnancy.

That extreme position, passed into law this year, is not shared by the majority of adult Floridians. Fifty-six percent of them say that abortion should be legal in the state in all or most circumstances, according to a Pew Research Center study.

The disconnect between the state’s legislative actions and public opinion has fueled a voter initiative that is already halfway to gathering the 891,523 signatures needed to put it on the ballot next year. The proposed ballot measure is called “Amendment to Limit Government Interference on Abortion.” The ballot summary reads as follows:

“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 healthcare provider.”

Along with getting enough petition signatures, ballot initiatives must also clear a review by the Florida Supreme Court, which is permitted to strike voter initiatives if the language of the initiative is deemed to be confusing.

And this is where Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody jumped in this past week. Moody didn’t have to be involved at all.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks in front of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during a press conference at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida on February 15, 2023.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks in front of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during a press conference at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida on February 15, 2023.

But she used her office to intervene, urging the Florida Supreme Court to keep the abortion question off the ballot because she found the word “viability” to be too confusing in the ballot language. It’s a ridiculous position. The word “viability” is already defined in Florida statutes as it relates to abortion.

In Florida Statute 390, under the heading of “termination of pregnancies” the word is defined:

“‘Viable’ or ‘viability’ means the stage of fetal development when the life of a fetus is sustainable outside the womb through standard medical measures,” it reads.

The word “viability” is actually a cornerstone of reproductive rights language. It comes straight from the text of the landmark Roe v. Wade case that had been the law of the land for the past 50 years.

But Moody is trying mightily to be confused. She wrote about it in an op-ed piece published this week in Florida newspapers. It appears on The Palm Beach Post op-ed page today. The piece, which reads like a stump speech for her eventual campaign for Florida governor begins: “I am pro-life, unabashedly so.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody listens to arguments from the plaintiffs' attorney during a Supreme Court hearing on the 15-week abortion ban in Florida on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.
Attorney General Ashley Moody listens to arguments from the plaintiffs' attorney during a Supreme Court hearing on the 15-week abortion ban in Florida on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.

Then she gets artfully confused.

“As any mother knows, ‘viability’ has two meanings when it comes to pregnancy. First, it means whether a pregnancy is expected to continue developing normally through delivery,” she wrote.

“Doctors can tell during the first trimester, usually around about 12 weeks, whether a pregnancy is viable and would have a much lower risk of miscarriage.”

After inventing this 12-week viability standard, she allows that there’s this other idea of viability out there — you know, the one enshrined for the past 50 years, the one that is spelled out in Florida law — although she leaves all that out.

“While I personally would not vote for this initiative no matter what definition of "viability" it was using,” Moody writes, “I know that to some voters it is material to their vote whether you are talking about an abortion in the first trimester or at the end of the second trimester.”

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Moody isn't always this willfully dense. She can be clearly discerning on the meaning of words given the right subject.

For example, earlier this year Moody inserted herself in a regulatory decision made by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

At issue was the increasingly popular practice of converting handguns to what the ATF classified as short-barreled rifles. This was accomplished by adding a stabilizing brace around the handgun that allowed it to be held with two hands and braced by a shoulder.

Under the National Firearms Act of 1934, owners of short-barreled rifles are required to register their weapons with the federal government. And the ATF ruled that these conversions turned handguns into short-barreled rifles and therefore needed to be registered.

Moody called his governmental overreach. Her office issued a press release on it:

“The Second Amendment is alive and well in Florida and our state laws protect the gun rights of law-abiding citizens. We issued this important legal opinion to provide clarity about our state law as the federal government continues to overreach in an effort to over-regulate certain firearm accessories.”

Moody explained in her opinion that the ATF was wrong to categorize a handgun as a rifle by the plain meaning of the words.

“Here, the distinctive features of the essence of a handgun and a short-barreled rifle are simple: a handgun, by definition, can be fired with only one hand and, in contrast, a rifle is designed with the intention that a person will fire it from his or her shoulder, due to the length of its stock,” she wrote.

“Opting to use a stabilizing brace with a handgun does not change its fundamental characteristics.”

Frank Cerabino
Frank Cerabino

See? Moody can be pretty attuned to the plain meaning of words and to the idea of an intrusive, over-regulating government trampling the privacy rights of individuals.

Just not when it comes to abortion. If only Florida women gave birth to guns.

Frank Cerabino is a columnist at The Palm Beach Post, a part of the USA TODAY Florida Network.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida AG Moody tries to stop ballot issue on abortion rights.