A who’s who of South Florida Republicans and conservative activists filled a hotel ballroom that was brimming with unapologetic pride the morning after the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that gave women the legal right to have an abortion.
“I just want to say that this morning, you woke up in a nation that is pro-life,” said Anthony Verdugo, the founder and executive director of the Christian Family Coalition Florida.
The crowd — which included Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, Republican state House members, leaders from Miami’s right-wing Moms For Liberty group and other GOP candidates running for county and state office — burst into cheers and applause.
The Christian Family Coalition’s Legislative Victory Breakfast is hosted yearly to celebrate the Republican-led state Legislature’s achievements during its annual session. But the Supreme Court ruling had an additional political resonance for Florida’s Christian conservatives on Saturday, Verdugo explained. It was a community that rallied fiercely for former President Donald Trump, who nominated the three newest Supreme Court justices, and they all voted in favor of overturning Roe.
“We were able to usher in a new era at the White House. And it was our state, our Electoral College votes, that gave President Trump a landslide victory in the Electoral College, and the opportunity to appoint three new pro-life justices,” Verdugo said. “This is surreal for a lot of us.”
It’s now up to state legislatures
The overturning of the Supreme Court’s previous decisions on Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey shifts the fight over abortion access to individual state legislatures.
Now, in what has historically been the country’s most populous battleground state, activists for and against abortion are vowing to make the issue their most urgent fight ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Some conservatives in Florida, where right-wing movements have thrived under a governor who’s considered a top presidential contender in 2024, want to use the party’s momentum to energize voters and make sure that the ruling only marks the beginning. And state Democrats, beleaguered after electoral and legislative losses in the past four years, want to mobilize voters at the ballot box and stir hope that the ruling is not the end.
In sharp contrast to the pro-life victory lap at the Doral breakfast on Saturday, pro-abortion rights supporters gathered Friday in the hours after the Supreme Court decision was revealed to express their frustration, disappointment and anger.
“This is not the end. We have been talking about this,” said Tiffany Burks, an abortion doula with the South Florida Black Doula Collective, at a Planned Parenthood press conference in Miami on Friday. “I’m going to continue to be an abortion doula. I’m going to continue to train other people to be abortion doulas as well. And if anything, this has sparked a fuel within me to continue this work.”
Abortion doulas are similar to birth or pregnancy doulas in that they are trained to provide physical, mental or emotional support to patients through a procedure. They do not perform abortions or give medical care.
The decision does not ban abortions in Florida. A state law that bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks and was passed during Florida’s legislative session this year goes into effect on July 1. And while Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled support on Friday for even stricter measures on abortion, the ruling leaves laws on abortion access up to individual states and U.S. territories.
Recent polls among Florida voters have consistently shown that a majority support access to abortion at some level. But it’s still unclear how much abortion can become a leading issue for voters over other topics like inflation, housing or the economy.
Democrats vow to fight for abortion access
Orlando state Rep. Anna Eskamani, who was the senior director for Planned Parenthood before being elected as a Democrat in 2018, said she thinks abortion will resonate with Democratic voters and bring the attention back to statewide races because it is intertwined with other local party priorities, like protecting voting rights.
“The reality is that abortion bans are absolutely interconnected with voter suppression,” Eskamani said Friday during a virtual press conference. “With gerrymandering, a majority of these elected officials did not find themselves in a place of power due to fair competitive races ... So this is not the will of the people. This is absolutely a reflection of extremism.”
Eskamani said she didn’t view abortion as an election tool to mobilize voters but rather a reaction to an unprecedented step from the U.S. Supreme Court to take away a right that was fought for and gained. But she said she believed Democrats needed to be bolder in their rhetoric in order to meet voters where they are.
“There absolutely needs to be an intentional effort by Democrats to stop tiptoeing around the word ‘abortion’ and to reclaim this issue and fight for this right,” Eskamani said. “But it can’t also just fall into the typical consultant-driven mentality... This is a personal issue. It’s not even a culture war issue.”
Friday’s news was enough to move Samar Ghandour to think about her own vote in November. The 17-year-old student from the School for Advanced Studies in Homestead is preparing for her first election this fall, and while she’s unfamiliar with the races and candidates that will be on the ballot, she said abortion will be on her mind.
She has a personal connection to reproductive rights. After several miscarriages, her aunt, whom Ghandour never met, became ill during a pregnancy while living in Jordan, decades ago. Ghandour said that because abortion was not an option for her to save her life, she died.
“We’re going backwards in the U.S,,” said Ghandour. “Our government is supposed to be a reflection of the people, and I don’t feel like it is right now.”
Right to privacy, the next forefront for activists
Advocates of abortion, however, argue that overturning the right to abortion in Florida could also require a challenge to language in the state Constitution that guarantees the right to privacy “free from governmental intrusion,” through the courts or a constitutional amendment.
“I think that that right to privacy in our state Constitution is one potential glimmer of hope in the wake of what we’ve seen from the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Tampa Rep. Fentrice Driskell, Democrats’ incoming leader in the state House. “But we do know that it is easier to amend Florida’s Constitution than it is to amend the federal Constitution.”
It’s still unclear what the state’s response will be now that the ruling is out. Núñez, who attended Saturday morning’s breakfast at the Intercontinental Hotel in Doral, reiterated that DeSantis continues to be “very open to looking at what other additional restrictions could be implemented” to restrict the abortion access in Florida.
“We’re looking to see what other restrictions could exist beyond what Florida is already doing,” Núñez told reporters. In her speech to the Christian Family Coalition, Núñez spoke of her values being raised Christian and her pro-life beliefs. “As Christians we believe that as soon as conception begins, there is life there, and we need to protect it,” she said.