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In Florida, this is the year to vote based on abortion | Commentary

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I rarely write about abortion, largely because most people already know where they stand on the issue.

Also because I think women have more than enough men in the world trying to tell them what to do with their bodies.

And lastly because I believe there are people with legitimate convictions on both sides of the issue.

So today I'm not going to presume to tell you what to think about abortion. You already know that.

What I am going to tell you is that, if this issue is at all important to you, you should vote on this issue above most any other this year in Florida — because the stakes are higher than ever.

[ Indiana becomes 1st state in US to approve abortion ban post Roe ]

Roe vs. Wade was just overturned. So the issue now goes back to states like Florida where Republicans, just a few months ago, voted to clamp down on abortions after 15 weeks, even forcing minors who are victims of rape, incest and human trafficking to carry out their pregnancies.

That's one thing you have to understand: Florida is a land of extremism on abortion. If your faith or conscience supports that — if you think a 14-year-old raped by her uncle should be forced to complete that pregnancy because all life is sacred — then you should make sure you keep Republicans in office.

But if you support any kind of nuance, including letting parents help make that decision, you should do otherwise, even if you normally vote red. Because Florida's GOP leadership has already vowed to clamp down even more.

Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed last month "to expand pro-life protections." And this past week, he took the unprecedented step of removing a state attorney from office for saying he wouldn't prosecute women who seek an abortion or their providers.

[ DeSantis says Florida will 'expand pro-life protections' after Supreme Court ruling - Politico  ]

And don't be deluded into thinking there will be some other way to address the issue in Florida — like the citizen-led uprising we saw in Kansas this past week.

Yes, much of America marveled as voters in conservative Kansas united to deliver choice advocates a 59-41 landslide victory. But in Florida — where citizen amendments must get upwards of 60% to pass — that same "landslide" would be a loss.

And even if citizens did clear that bar, Florida Republicans have a track record of trying to thwart citizen initiatives after they pass. They've tried to obstruct successful citizen votes on class size, medical marijuana, civil rights for former felons and more.

Demonstrators hold signs during an "Emergency Rally to Protect Abortion Access" at the Renaissance Theatre Company in Orlando on Friday, June 24, 2022. The rally is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel) (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Plus, GOP leaders keep putting up more obstacles to prevent citizen amendments from even getting on the ballot in the first place.

Last year, legislators passed a law making it illegal for anyone to donate more than $3,000 to any citizen-led effort to get an amendment on the ballot. The law actually allowed the state to imprison donors.

A federal judge — a hard-core conservative appointed by Donald Trump — blocked the law from taking effect, saying DeSantis and GOP lawmakers had clearly violated the U.S. Constitution. But that didn't dissuade them. They passed another attempted crackdown on donations just a few months ago.

[ Florida politicians take millions in out-of-state donations, but want to ban them for citizen campaigns | Commentary  ]

Their goal has been clear: Do not let citizens in Florida do what citizens in Kansas did — take democracy into their own hands.

I know there's some moderation and nuance among conservatives when it comes to abortion — people of faith who generally abhor the idea of abortion but who also can't stomach the idea of forcing a victim to be traumatized even further.

What you must understand is: There is no moderation anymore among current Republican officeholders at the state level. The Legislature's vote to crack down on abortion, even for rape and incest victims, was unanimous among Republicans.

One South Florida Democrat, Sen. Lauren Book, tearfully shared a personal story of sexual trauma from her youth in an attempt to help her colleagues understand. "I was drugged, raped by multiple men," Book said. "I haven't talked about that experience to anyone."

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It made no difference. The vote was party-line, allowing exceptions only when the life of the mother or child is at stake.

There are health experts and advocates who fear the Supreme Court's ruling paved the way for state politicians to target birth control next.

As I said above, I genuinely believe there are honest, faithful people on both sides of this debate. That may not be a popular take. But I know there are some who believe life begins at conception and that all life is sacred without exception — those who fight as vigilantly against the death penalty as they do abortion in any instance.

I also know there are a whole lot of people who believe just as passionately that women should have control over their own bodies, not the government. That doctors should be consulted, not politicians.

And I know there's a big group in the middle that generally opposes late-term abortion, but also thinks there should be exceptions for rape, incest, trafficking and minors.

Well, understand that current GOP officeholders do not tolerate that middle ground anymore. They've made that very clear. Whether a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest — or involves minors whose parents want a say — they want control over it all. And they now have a green light from the Supreme Court to impose even more restrictions. So the stakes are very clear.

smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com

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