Florida Supreme Court Allows Heartbeat Bill to Take Effect, OKs Dangerous Pro-Abortion Ballot Initiative

Ashley Sadler

Communications Director

Tallahassee, Fla. (Oregon Right to Life) — The Supreme Court of Florida this week handed down two major abortion-related rulings. One allows the state’s strong protections for the unborn to take effect, while the other could endanger Florida’s current and future pro-life laws.

In a 6-1 decision April 1, Florida’s highest court ruled that the state’s 15-week abortion limit, passed in 2022, did not violate Florida’s state constitution. The Monday ruling also permitted the state’s far stronger “heartbeat bill” to take effect. 

The “heartbeat” law, which will now be enforceable on May 1, will protect most unborn babies after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (typically at about six weeks gestation), with narrow exceptions. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation in April 2023, but the law could not take effect until the state Supreme Court weighed in on whether the earlier 15-week limit ran afoul of Florida’s constitution. 

In its majority opinion Monday, the Florida court declared there to be “no basis” to “invalidate” the 15-week abortion limit.

The justices noted that they were reversing the court’s 1989 ruling that had been based upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s conclusions in Roe v. Wade (1973). In Roe, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that an implicit “right to privacy” in the U.S. Constitution included a right to abortion. The Court overturned that decision in Dobbs v. Jackson (2022), finding that no such “right” to abortion existed at the federal level. Accordingly, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday rolled back its 1989 decision, determining that the Privacy Clause in the state constitution also contained no right to abortion.

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Pro-life advocates and supporters of legal abortion alike have recognized the power of the nearly unanimous judicial ruling to pave the way for even more expansive pro-life legislation in future. However, a separate abortion-related decision Monday by the Florida Supreme Court threatens to complicate or even extinguish both current and future pro-life efforts.

In a split 4-3 ruling also handed down April 1, the Florida justices permitted a ballot initiative to move forward that would enshrine the “right” to abortion into the Florida state constitution. The court shot down objections from pro-life individuals including Florida state Attorney General Ashley Moody, who had argued that the proposal, dubbed Amendment 4, was too vaguely-worded.

“That the proposed amendment’s principal goal and chief purpose is to limit government interference with abortion is plainly stated in terms that clearly and unambiguously reflect the text of the proposed amendment,” the justices wrote. “The broad sweep of this proposed amendment is obvious in the language of the summary.”

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Ballot initiatives have proven to present serious challenges for pro-life advocates at the state level. Thus far, following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, abortion-related initiatives have landed on the ballot in six states. In all six instances, the initiatives have been decided in favor of protecting abortion access, rather than the unborn, deeply complicating statewide pro-life efforts.

On Monday, Florida Right to Life vowed to defeat Florida’s “extreme” ballot initiative.

“The Florida Supreme Court has cleared the way for the extreme pro-abortion Amendment 4 to appear on November ballots,” the group wrote on social media. “Florida Right to Life, and National Right to Life, will fight to defeat this measure.”

In comments to ORTL, Florida Right to Life President Lynda Bell said that the pro-abortion interests behind the ballot initiative “have an agenda that has nothing to do with helping women.”

“Their agenda is to promote abortion,” she said. “They are deceptive and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal of forcing radical abortion initiatives throughout the country.”

She encouraged grassroots pro-life advocates to “[b]e aware, and educate the public as much as is possible,” noting that “Florida RTL will need a lot of help to fight this.”

While pro-life advocates have expressed serious concern about the Florida pro-abortion initiative’s potential to impede current and future pro-life legislation, alternate avenues remain to ensure legal protections for the unborn in the Sunshine State.

Liberty Counsel Chair Mat Staver said that a concurring opinion in the Florida Supreme Court’s decision authorizing the amendment contained language hinting at favorability toward legally establishing the personhood of unborn children.

“The proposed amendment would constitutionalize restrictions on the people’s authority to use law to protect an entire class of human beings from private harm,” Chief Justice Carlos Muniz wrote in a concurrence, in which he was joined by two other justices. The “class of human beings” reference has sparked hope that the justices could be amenable to recognizing the unborn as members of that group.

“I think it’s really opened the door,” Staver said, according to WTVJ. “And I think possibly that’s why the chief justice put that in there, that if [Amendment 4] does pass, the Florida Supreme Court’s not out of the picture.”

Florida voters will weigh in on the pro-abortion ballot initiative when they head to the ballot box on November 4. The proposal will need 60% approval to pass.


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