Updated: Jul 8
Many of us are not aware that the state with the third most abortions in the country – behind New York and Illinois – is Florida. That’s because women are traveling to Florida from Alabama and Georgia for the procedure. But Florida, now along with Texas and Oklahoma, competes to enact the most drastic kind of legislation. In the DeSantis era, even before the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, our Republican-controlled legislature would not provide common-sense solutions to the real problems that befall Florida residents.
Ron DeSantis measures success in the number of mentions he gets on Fox News and the lines of print covering his exploits. At a time when the country is faced with critical life-threatening issues, he delights in stirring up the culture wars by creating problems that do not exist and then providing solutions for these contrived issues. An obvious example is the “don’t say gay” nonsense. Now the right to an abortion is an easy target for our media-hungry governor and far-right legislature. The court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – the case that overturned Roe v. Wade – has ceded all authority over the right to an abortion to the states.
DeSantis wanted Florida to be ground zero for the culture wars, and our legislature gives him what he craves. Before last week’s decision, the Florida legislature passed a bill banning abortions after fifteen weeks with no exemptions – to take effect next month. Now that the Supreme Court has given the green light, this bill cannot legally be blocked, and very possibly another bill will ban all abortions in Florida. Who controls our legislature has never been more important.
The myriad implications of the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson are yet to unfold. What if – after outlawing all abortions, the Florida legislature then makes it unlawful to assist a Florida resident in obtaining an abortion in another state where it is legal? What if Florida empowers its own citizens, as was done in Texas, to bring civil actions against those who provide assistance to women seeking abortions? These are all new possibilities.
The overturn of Roe v. Wade has left us with a patchwork of states’ rights that resembles a time in America when some states allowed slavery and others did not. The implications are division and conflict as well as legal uncertainty.
However, the U.S. Congress could pass legislation to make abortions legal in the United States. But the current razor-thin Democratic majority makes such a possibility little more than a fantasy -- unless women of all parties join with the Democrats to regain autonomy over their own bodies. The mid-term elections may tell us more, while we work to elect Democratic candidates.
No doubt the five hard-core conservative Supreme Court Justices – Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Cony Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas – appear poised to go even further with their wrecking ball aimed at our basic rights. Thomas has suggested – in his decision -- that the court should review even substantive due process precedents such legalized same-sex relations, gay marriage, and the right of couples to utilize contraception. Whether or not these rights are actually ever threatened, that a Supreme Court Justice has recorded this suggestion should be frightening to every American.
What has brought us to this place and what can be done about it? We have taken our democracy for granted, and now it is in jeopardy. The power of the people still resides in the ballot box. Yet there is no doubt that the right to vote in free and fair elections is under attack across the nation. Every election – including local races like the upcoming Sarasota school board race -- will determine if we preserve our democracy or become a pluralistic autocracy where the people serve the government and not the reverse.
We are the voters who will likely determine the future of our nation. We live in historic times, and we have been given the responsibility to preserve our freedoms. We must rise to the challenge by donating our time and resources. The demise of Roe v. Wade is a lost battle of great consequence, but other such battles remain. We can win.
Electing a filibuster-proof majority of Democrats committed to passing legislation that legally nationalizes abortion is a key first step. Some states such as California are considering constitutional amendments to protect those rights, while other states such as Texas and Florida may be moving to the opposite extreme. The battle for reproductive rights is likely to remain at the state level for the foreseeable future.
Now that our courts have failed us and hostile state legislatures are poised to increase restrictions on abortion, it will be up to private citizens, foundations, and even employers to step up and see that reproductive health care remains accessible to all women. Political action is not a luxury. It is what is demanded in a democracy.
– Bob Gary
LBKDC Board Member
Former Federal Prosecutor in the Organized Crime Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Deputy Chief and Acting Chief of the US DOJ Cleveland Strike Force, and a Special Assistant United States Attorney – among other professional roles.