Bill Cotterell: Republicans will come to regret winning on abortion

But only if Democrats can make shrewd tactical use of the campaign advantage given to them, our Capitol Columnist writes.

Activists hold abortion rights signs and shout slogans while joining in a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court, April 15, 2023.

Activists hold abortion rights signs and shout slogans while joining in a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court, April 15, 2023. Photo by Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images

There was never any doubt that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Republican legislators would succeed in further restricting abortion – reducing from 15 weeks to six the window of legal opportunity – but they figure to pay a political price next year for their victory. 

If, that is, the Democrats can make shrewd tactical use of the campaign advantage given to them not only in Florida but all over the nation in recent weeks. We can never underestimate the Democrats’ ability to blow even the most promising political prospects.

Previously from Bill Cotterell –

Since the premature disclosure of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning its 1973 decision legalizing abortion, the divisive and emotional issue has been a top talking point for the Democrats. From President Biden to state party chair Nikki Fried, from Florida to Wyoming, the Democrats have sharpened their rhetoric and aimed it especially at the suburban women voters who were so decisive in giving the party control of the U.S. Senate last year and holding the GOP to a tiny edge in the U.S. House.

“We may be the minority in this chamber, but we’re not the minority outside,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, told the House during the all-day debate on the six-week abortion rule last Thursday. By “outside,” she meant not only the noisy protesters in the Capitol rotunda, who were ousted from the House gallery after their raucous reaction to speeches, but the millions of voters who will be mobilized by abortion next year.

Legislators told touching stories of personal experiences, moral quandaries, individual responsibility, economic disadvantage and religion. But it was really about power. With supermajorities in the state House and Senate, Republicans can ramrod anything they want. Democrats can only slow things up a little with hopeless amendments that make political points.

So that’s what each side did.

House Speaker Paul Renner had said his Republican forces would waive the rules and move the bill to final passage, rejecting all amendments so it wouldn’t have to go back to the Senate for concurrence. Eskamani and her badly outnumbered allies dutifully tossed up dozens of amendments, just to make the GOP vote again and again on the anti-choice side that Democrats are convinced is a political loser.

Hours of discussion – you couldn’t really call it debate – ended in a 70-40 vote sending the bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who immediately signed it.

The punchless Democratic minority believes the dominant GOP will pay at the polls next year. Abortion is not a top-tier issue, like the economy or crime or immigration, but it’s up there – especially among women and young voters who’ve never known a world where abortion is illegal.

The 15-week abortion ban enacted last year is being challenged before the Florida Supreme Court under the privacy provision of the state Constitution. Fried, after losing her party’s primary for governor, last September formed a “Won’t Back Down” campaign committee to gather signatures for a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights.

Right after the U.S. Supreme Court turned abortion law back to the states last year, Kansas rejected new restrictions in a statewide referendum. In Wisconsin, liberal Janet Protasiewicz won a state Supreme Court seat by 11 percentage points, campaigning on her pro-choice beliefs. Michigan Democrats won control of state government and promptly repealed a 1931 abortion ban that had been stymied for 50 years by the previous Supreme Court precedent.

Wyoming’s constitution provides that adults have a right to medical privacy, so the Republican state legislature decreed that abortion is not health care. A judge recently said that definition is up to the courts, not elected politicians.

Meanwhile a federal appeals court has stayed the ruling by a Texas judge who stopped nationwide sale of mifepristone, the pill used in pregnancy terminations. Another judge in another case ruled the other way, so that one is headed for the same Supreme Court that started the whole mess last year by overturning the 1973 ruling.

But the issue in that case is not abortion, it’s whether the Food and Drug Administration followed proper procedure in approving the abortion pill some 20 years ago. But masses of voters don’t usually rush to the polls after being galvanized by arguments over old FDA regulatory rulings.

Abortion won’t reelect Biden, convert Congress or turn Florida from red to blue. But it’s probably the most stark difference between the parties and one of the few things Democrats have going for them.

Bill Cotterell is a retired capitol reporter for United Press International and the Tallahassee Democrat. He can be reached at bcotterell@cityandstatefl.com

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