Why Florida is suddenly the key abortion battleground of 2024

As Gov. Ron DeSantis prepared last year to launch an ill-fated presidential campaign, the Florida Republican had a plan on how to impress the party’s far-right base, especially in states like Iowa: The governor would sign a bunch of radical policy measures into law, proving his conservative bona fides and demonstrating an ability to get things done.

With this in mind, roughly a month before kicking off his White House bid, DeSantis quietly signed an unpopular six-week abortion ban to be imposed on his constituents.

That was in April 2023. Almost exactly a year later, the governor has found that his home state is suddenly the nation’s key abortion battleground. NBC News reported:

In a pair of significant decisions Monday, the Florida Supreme Court upheld a 15-week ban on abortion in the state while also allowing a proposed amendment that would enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution to appear on the November ballot. The conservative-leaning court’s decision on the 15-week ban also means that a six-week abortion ban … will take effect. But the bench’s ruling to allow the constitutional amendment to appear on the ballot this fall means voters will have a chance in just seven months to undo those restrictions.

This is a story with a variety of key elements, so let’s break them down one at a time:

The policy implications: Florida has gradually become a red state, but polls suggest that most Floridians support abortion rights. Republican policymakers in the state nevertheless decided to impose a six-week ban on their constituents, and in the wake of the state Supreme Court’s ruling, the policy is poised to take effect. The ban — which includes exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the woman — will likely have the effect of a full abortion ban because many women don’t even know they’re pregnant after six weeks.

The ballot initiative: The Florida Supreme Court simultaneously cleared the way for voters to have their say in the fall on the policy’s fate: The state’s electorate will decide whether or not to enshrine abortion rights protections into the Florida Constitution. It will need 60% support, not a simple majority, to pass.

The turnout question: Ahead of yesterday’s court ruling, most political observers — left, right, and center —agreed that Donald Trump was likely to win the Sunshine State and its 30 electoral votes. The question now is whether the fight over abortion rights will boost Democratic turnout and make Florida more competitive. (The Biden campaign this week described the state as “winnable,” but it has not yet included Florida in its national ad buys.)

The consistency question: Floridians have demonstrated a curious habit of wanting a variety of policy goals — minimum wage increases, marijuana reforms, criminal justice reforms, etc. — and simultaneously voting for GOP candidates and incumbents who want the opposite. Will the state’s electorate vote to protect abortion rights while, on the same ballot, backing Republicans who are desperate to eliminate protections for abortion rights? It’s entirely possible. Time will tell.

The Trump challenge: The former president won’t just have to worry about increased progressive turnout. There’s also the question of what he’ll say about his adopted home state’s ballot initiative, and the six-week ban he mildly criticized as too radical during his party’s primary process.

Rick Scott’s dilemma: The far-right incumbent senator, who’s running for a second term this year, has endorsed a six-week ban, and given the electoral circumstances, he probably wasn’t thrilled to learn of these new developments.

The national landscape: There are a variety of other states where voters will have the chance to protect reproductive rights, but given Florida’s size, partisan history, and potentially competitive contests up and down the ballot, it’s likely to be the state that matters most in 2024 when it comes to the larger fight over the future of abortion policy.