Things were chaotic in Lauren Book’s Democrat Party before she was sworn-in as minority leader. Florida state Senate. She was getting her hair trimmed and helping her daughter, 5 years old, pick shoes for the occasion.
This chaos is only going to get worse. Book spoke to The Sunday Review by phone as she was getting ready. She warned about a bitter fight for abortion rights in the next session. With existential stakes on reproductive health care, Florida — and beyond. She was exceedingly clear that it’s time for Democrats to fight tooth and nail to ensure abortion remains legal in her home state.
“This is it. It’s devastating. It’s all-encompassing,” Book said of what’s to come in the 2023 legislative session. “We have to be better and stronger and tougher, but even still, we’re outnumbered.”
FloridaThe Southeast used to be a safe place for abortion, but now it is at the edge of becoming a deep-red state like Texas or Oklahoma in terms of reproductive rights. The Sunshine State’s anti-choice legislators are ready to limit abortion further after a 15-week ban on abortion was put into place earlier in the year. Also, Roe v. Wade was repealed by the U.S Supreme Court. With the aforementioned Republican Supermajority in both chambers, and a vocal pro-choice leader at Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), it’s a given that Florida will lose access to abortion ― it’s just not clear to what extent.
Book, a former teacher, and mother of two at 38, is at the forefront of the fight for reproductive right in. Florida. A Survivor of child sexual assault, she argued against the 15 week abortion ban that did not allow for exceptions for rape survivors or those who have been raped.
Minutes after Book shared her deeply personal story in March on the Senate Floor, her Republican However, colleagues agreed to the restriction without any exceptions for little girls like her. “I have never in my entire life felt more devastated than that vote, that debate,” She spoke.
Access to abortion in the United States has been severely restricted by the 15-week ban. Florida The Southeast. Three of the four states closest to each other have near-total abortion prohibitions in place, while Georgia is currently fighting a six week ban with a clause in federal and state courts governing fetal personshood.
Northern Planned Motherhood centers Florida They are seeing three times as many patients than they did before Roe fell,” said Laura Goodhue. Florida Alliance Planned Parenthood Affiliates. Many of the patients come from out-of-state and have often driven all night from Texas or Louisiana in order to get treatment before the 15 weeks. Many abortion clinics have been overwhelmed by the influx of women, resulting in more unwanted pregnancies.
Republican Leaders of the Florida legislature, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner, have said they’d like to further restrict abortion. Passidomo recently mentioned A 12-week ban could be possible that would, notably, include exceptions to rape and incest survivors. Passidomo and Renner declined The Sunday Review’s request for on-the-record interviews.
“We can expect a restriction,” Fentrice Driskell (D), a state representative, said that the minority leader in Florida’s House. “They’ve been unified on that point. What we don’t know is whether it will be a reduction to 12 weeks, six weeks or even an outright reduction.”
Every Florida The Sunday Review interviewed a variety of Democrats to get their thoughts on what kind of abortion restrictions Republicans would favor. Some people think a 12-week ban is possible; others believe a 6-week ban, or even a clause recognizing fetal personhood like in Georgia.
Anna Eskamani (D), a state rep, was an employee of Planned Parenthood for six-years before she joined the Democratic Party. Florida House believes a 6-week ban on abortion is appropriate “highly likely.” And she believes DeSantis will push for the restriction in a special session set for January, instead of this month’s session, which is currently designated to discuss Hurricane Ian relief.
Democrats will need to be strategic when fighting impending restrictions, as they don’t have enough votes to block a bill. They’ll need to use the bully pulpit to make their case to voters and get constituents riled up, and will need to reach across the aisle to new colleagues who may be more moderate on the issue of abortion care.
A A ballot initiative is also in development. After the Pro-choice ballot initiatives are a success during midterms, Florida Democrats are working to amend the state constitution to codify reproductive healthcare for the 2024 elections.
“A 2024 ballot amendment for abortion rights in Florida is definitely something that is being actively explored,” Eskamani said. Eskamani warned that it was not easy to get to 60% to approve a ballot measure. Republicans are trying to raise that threshold to 66%. It would be a massive, multimillion-dollar campaign, but Eskamani said it’s really now or never.
Book and Driskell believe that any restriction Republicans place their weight behind will likely include exceptions to rape or incest to make a extreme bill seem more moderate.
“Those exceptions cannot save that bill any more than they could have saved the 15-week abortion ban,” Driskell spoke. “The point is that the restriction itself is unreasonable.”
“They’re going to give an exemption for survivors of these types of crime in hopes of absolving themselves of any terribly bad actions, and that’s just not the case,” Book.
Florida Democrats are now left to speculate on how extreme an antiabortion law will be pushed by their GOP counterparts, as many Republicans have been silent about the issue in recent weeks. Some points to the ongoing Florida Supreme Court case against the 15-week ban as a reason they can’t move on the issue just yet. Eskamani and other Democrats are not optimistic that the state Supreme Court will rule that abortion care is included under the state constitution’s right-to-privacy clause.
A possible reason is Florida Republicans’ reluctance to move forward on abortion restrictions is that DeSantis is expected to run for president in 2024. Many of the Florida Democrats who spoke with The Sunday Review believe the governor will restrict abortion further than 15 or 12 weeks, and that he’s just waiting for the most politically profitable time.
“People have said Donald Trump is like Jason: He goes through with a chainsaw and he kills everybody there. Ron DeSantis is like Hannibal Lecter: He’s going to enjoy you with a glass of Chianti.”
– State Senator Lauren Book (D), minority leader for the Florida Senate
DeSantis would need to have a more severe abortion ban on his record in order for him to win in what will likely become a crowded, far-right environment Republican 2024: The presidential primary. A 15-week abortion ban doesn’t galvanize a religious base like the fall of Roe, which former President Donald Trump will almost certainly campaign on.
And it doesn’t matter when the governor decides to act, because he has effectively “hijacked” The House speakership, and the Senate presidency, was state Rep. Michele Rayner Goolsby (D).
“He hand-picked and selected folks he wanted in those chambers that were not necessarily Republican leadership’s picks,” She spoke. “Folks who would have been more moderate… are now going to possibly vote with him. There’s this belief that he actually may win the Republican nomination, so people want to be close to power.”
DeSantis remained silent about abortion in the lead up to the midterms. This was a surprising choice for a politician who has been playing to his religious base. But DeSantis, like many other Republicans this election season, realized abortion restrictions aren’t popular on the campaign trail. DeSantis is not Trump’s calculating and cunning politician.
“Republicans know that [abortion] is not a good issue for them,” Book. “People have said Donald Trump is like Jason: He goes through with a chainsaw and he kills everybody there. Ron DeSantis is like Hannibal Lecter: He’s going to enjoy you with a glass of Chianti. He’s very, very methodical and he’s very, very good at what he does.”
“That’s what’s happening here,” She added. “He knew that this was not a good issue in the election. That’s why they didn’t focus on it, that’s why they didn’t talk about it.”
Opponents of abortion rights are not Florida aren’t happy with Republicans’ reluctance to act. Andrew Shirvell, founder Florida Voice for the Unborn rallied 150 supporters against abortion rights to protest inside the Capitol during the organizational session when Book was sworn into the position of Senate minority leader. According to Shirvell, his organization believes that Republicans must immediately put restrictions on abortion in place.
It appears “disingenuous” Shirvell suggested that Passidomo could mention a 12-week abortion ban, with some exceptions. Shirvell also said that it would not be illegal. “nonstarter” If Republicans passed such a bill, it would be a disaster for anti-choice groups like his.
“I was led to believe that we were going to be having the special legislative session by the end of the year, and that it would be specifically dedicated to further abortion prohibitions ― whether it’s at six weeks or at conception ― but the job would be done by the end of 2022,” said Shirvell, who told The Sunday Review he had this impression after meeting with DeSantis’ chief of staff after the Supreme Court decision leaked in May.
Voice for the Unborn and Shirvell have one goal: a complete ban on abortion with no exceptions.
“There’s no reason to wait until May,” said Shirvell, noting that DeSantis could amend this month’s special legislative session on Hurricane Ian relief funds to focus on abortion. “They could get it done tomorrow if they wanted to. It’s just they need political courage, not cowardice. So far, we’ve really just seen a lot of cowardice on their part.”
While Republicans quietly drag their feet, Democrats are gearing up to fight ― even if they know the battle may be futile.
“Fighting back is going to be tough. We’re going to have to be more strategic … I’m concerned that it’s not going to make a real difference,” Book. “But we’re going to continue to do the work that people sent us to Tallahassee to do.”