By John Stemberger
President, Florida Family Policy Council

There are currently three pro-life citizen initiative petition drives registered in Florida to attempt to amend the state constitution. Unfortunately, they all have different leaders sponsoring them and each has different proposed language.

The problem we are all trying to solve as pro-lifers in Florida is that we have our own state version of Roe vs. Wade. This bad case, decided by the Florida Supreme Court in 1989 called “In Re TW” created a state right to abortion using a good informational privacy clause in our state constitution (adopted by Floridians in 1980). Our current strategy, agreed upon by leading state and national pro-life leaders and pro-life lawyers, is to get rid of this bad case the same way we got rid of Roe vs. Wade. Bad judges created the abortion right in Florida, and now good judges in Florida will reverse and overturn it.

A 2022 law protecting unborn children from abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy passed by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Governor DeSantis is currently on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. Florida’s Supreme Court is now widely considered one of the country’s most conservative and textualist state courts, and most of the justices are personally pro-life. It will take several months, perhaps even more than a year, but we believe the Florida high court will eventually hear and review the 15-week law. Even liberal commentators expect the court to eventually overturn Florida’s abortion “right”. So, at this point, our thirty-three years of work have paid off with winning elections and getting great judicial appointments and we are set to see a similar reversal of Florida’s Roe vs. Wade.

It is critical to understand that the text of our constitution is not the problem. The problem lies with the liberal activist judges on the court in 1989 that clearly misinterpreted it. Therefore, we do not need to amend our state Constitution to “fix” our constitution because there is no abortion right in it.

That is one of the main reasons we do not support petition-based attempts to amend our state constitution on life issues. There are at least five other reasons we do not support these efforts:

1) We should learn from Kansas’ failure. The state of Kansas just tried to pass a pro-life amendment in August of this year and the effort failed miserably. The pro-life side spent over $10 million on the initiative. When an amendment like this fails, it gives perfect cover for weak politicians to hide behind the results and say, “The people have spoken and we should not try to pass any more pro-life laws.” Kansas pro-lifers will spend decades now trying to dig themselves out of the hole they created by trying and failing to pass a pro-life state constitutional amendment. Leading state and national pro-life organizations are hoping that Florida and other states do not make the same mistake as Kansas.

2) Very difficult to get on the ballot and even more difficult to pass. Florida is the only state in the nation to require a 60 percent passage rate for a constitutional amendment. It is an extremely high bar. But before you can get an amendment on the ballot, you must collect almost a million voters’ signatures in support of the language. After the sponsoring group collects the first ten percent of petitions needed, the Florida Supreme Court will conduct a single subject review. If the court finds the language deals with more than one subject and or is misleading, the language will not be approved. The petition is then struck down and the campaign is over. None of the three pro-life petition campaigns currently in progress have ever collected the ten percent needed to get a Supreme Court review, even though some of these petition efforts have been around for several years.

3) The three amendment sponsors do not have the finances, networks, or grassroots support to win. Passing a state constitutional amendment by a citizen initiative is an extremely difficult process and requires millions of dollars. I know, as I am one of the few persons in Florida that has ever done it, with the marriage amendment campaign from 2005-2008. Even with the full support of Florida Baptists, Catholics, many other church denominations, and every pro-family group in the country, we still did not make the first deadline for signatures after two years. Under a new law, the signatures don’t carry over after two years. If not for a major donor gift that was totally unexpected, we would have never even finished collecting a million marriage petitions by the deadline. The current amendment efforts do not have the finances or support from major pro-life groups or denominational church leaders.

4) We must focus all our efforts on defeating the pro-abortion amendment that will likely be on the ballot in 2024. I predict that in 2024 we will see a George Soros-like group mount a serious and well-funded campaign to amend the constitution to pass an abortion rights amendment creating an express right to abortion in the state constitution since one does not exist in the text of the constitution now. We will need every bit of time, energy, focus, and financial resources to defeat this amendment and to elect a pro-life President in 2024. We cannot be distracted.

5) With so many battles to fight, we do not want to dilute our time, effort, and energy on matters that are unlikely to succeed. When we mount a campaign, we do it to win. And we never go alone. We always move together collaboratively and build a large consensus with other state and national organizations. We also choose our battles carefully to ensure we are not doing things that will be out of reach or engaging in symbolic efforts which will not be effective. We want our supporters to invest their time and money in actions that will succeed and make a difference. Sadly, the current petition campaigns will do neither.

One final note. The people behind these petition efforts are very committed to the cause of life and are very sincere. They are good people of high moral character. But we simply disagree with their strategy at the present time. I hope this statement clarifies why we do not support these petition campaigns. We deeply appreciate your commitment to the cause of life and thank you for considering these thoughts.

John Stemberger

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