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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Florida abortion rights amendment reaches signature threshold

Demonstrators march in the rain during an abortion rights rally in downtown Orlando on Monday, June 27, 2022. The rally is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.  (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
By Skyler Swisher Orlando Sentinel

A proposed constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights in Florida has enough signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot, according to unofficial numbers posted on the state’s elections website Friday.

The Florida Division of Elections reported it has verified 910,946 petitions submitted by the campaign, almost 20,000 more than the required 891,523.

The amendment’s backers say the milestone shows that they have broad support needed to enshrine abortion rights in Florida’s constitution.

“The fact that we only launched our campaign eight months ago and we’ve already reached our petition goal speaks to the unprecedented support and momentum there is to get politicians out of our private lives and health care decisions,” campaign director Lauren Brenzel said.

Floridians Protecting Freedom, the group backing the abortion amendment, is awaiting official confirmation from the secretary of state that the signature requirements have been met. The agency has until Feb. 1 to make that determination. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

If the amendment makes the ballot, it must win at least 60% of the vote to secure passage.

The ballot initiative’s summary states in part, “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.”

Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. That law will take effect if the Supreme Court upholds a 15-week abortion ban passed last year. The proposed amendment will need to clear another hurdle to get on the ballot, even if it is certified as having enough signatures.

The Florida Supreme Court, which is dominated by conservative justices, must approve the ballot initiative’s language. The high court evaluates proposed citizen ballot initiatives to determine if the language is clear, won’t mislead voters, and deals with a single subject. Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody has argued that the ballot summary will confuse voters because it doesn’t define the term “viability.” Supporters say the term has a “well-understood, commonly accepted meaning” as “the point at which a fetus could survive outside the womb.”

The high court is set to hear arguments on Feb. 7.