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Biden will assail Florida’s 6-week abortion ban as he tries to boost his reelection odds

By SEUNG MIN KIM, Associated Press
Published: April 23, 2024, 8:08am

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is wading deeper into the fight over abortion rights that has energized Democrats since the fall of Roe v. Wade, traveling to Florida to assail the state’s upcoming ban and similar restrictions that have imperiled access to care for pregnant women nationwide.

Tuesday’s campaign visit to Tampa takes Biden to the epicenter of the latest battle over abortion restrictions. The state’s six-week abortion ban is poised to go into effect May 1 at the same time that Florida voters are gearing up for a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution.

Biden is seeking to capitalize on the unceasing momentum against abortion restrictions nationwide to not only buoy his reelection bid in battleground states he won in 2020, but also to go on the offensive against Donald Trump in states that the presumptive Republican nominee won four years ago. One of those states is Florida, where Biden lost by 3.3 percentage points to Trump.

At the same time, advocates on the ground say support for abortion access cuts across parties. They’re intent on making the issue as nonpartisan as possible as they work to scrounge up at least 60% support from voters for the ballot initiative.

That could mean in some cases, Florida voters would split their tickets, backing GOP candidates while supporting the abortion measure.

“I think that normal people are aware that a candidate campaign is really different than a ballot initiative,” said Lauren Brenzel, campaign director for Floridians Protecting Freedom, which gathered signatures to put the abortion question before voters. “You can vote for your preferred candidate of any political party and still not agree with them on every single issue.”

Brenzel continued, “This gives voters an opportunity to have their message heard on one policy platform.”

On the same day the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the ballot measure could go before voters, it also upheld the state’s 15-week abortion ban. That subsequently cleared the way for the new ban on the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, which is often before women know they are pregnant, to go into effect next week.

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Organizers of the abortion ballot measure say they collected nearly 1.5 million signatures to put the issue before voters, although the state stopped counting at just under a million. Roughly 891,500 signatures were required. Of the total number of signatures, about 35% were from either registered Republican voters or those not affiliated with a party, organizers said.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat, said if the abortion ballot initiative becomes branded as a partisan effort, “it just makes it more challenging to reach 60%.” Eskamani, who worked at Planned Parenthood before running for political office, said she is encouraging the Biden administration to focus broadly on the impact of a six-week ban and let the ballot measure speak for itself.

“At the end of the day, the ballot initiative is going to be a multimillion-dollar campaign that stands very strongly on its own,” Eskamani said.

While in Florida, Biden is sure to go on the attack against his general election challenger, who has said abortion is a matter for states to decide.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a question on whether the former president, a Florida voter, would oppose or support the ballot measure. In an NBC interview last September, Trump called Florida’s six-week ban “terrible.” But he has repeatedly highlighted the justices he tapped for the U.S. Supreme Court who, through the 2022 ruling that ended a constitutional right to an abortion, cleared the way for such restrictions to be written.

Trump and other Republicans are aware that voter backlash against newfound abortion restrictions could be a serious liability this fall.

Abortion-rights supporters have won every time the issue has been put before voters, including in solidly conservative states such as Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio. Last month, a Democrat in a suburban state House district in Alabama flipped the seat from Republican control by campaigning on abortion rights, weeks after in vitro fertilization services had been paused in the state.

Nikki Fried, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said Florida will be a competitive state on the presidential level “because of the extremism that has come out of Florida.” There are no Democrats in a statewide elected position and no Democrat has won the state on the presidential level since 2012, but state party officials have found some glimmers of political change in vastly smaller races, such as the open Jacksonville mayor’s race last May that saw a Democrat win in what was once a solidly Republican city.

Alongside the abortion initiative, Floridians will also vote on a ballot measure on whether to legalize recreational marijuana later this fall that could also juice turnout and enthusiasm in favor of Democrats.

Republicans were dismissive of the Biden campaign and the broader Democratic Party’s efforts to use abortion as a political cudgel, arguing that other issues will matter more with voters in November.

“Floridians’ top issues are immigration, the economy and inflation; in all three areas Joe Biden has failed,” said Evan Power, the chairman of the state Republican Party. “Instead of coming to talk to Floridians about manufactured issues, he should get to work solving the real issues that he has failed to lead on.”

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