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Activists on both sides of the abortion issue are trying to change Florida's constitution

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Abortion rights advocates are beginning to see Florida as a potential foothold for access in the South. Right now abortion is legal up to 15 weeks, while the state's new six-week abortion ban is on hold. But with so much at stake, activists on both sides of the issue are working to change abortion rights in the Florida Constitution. WFSU's Regan McCarthy has the story.

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REGAN MCCARTHY, BYLINE: A small group of advocates is gathered outside Florida's historic capitol. A day of thunderstorms has dampened their plans for a rally, but Trish Brown says a bit of rain has never dampened her resolve.

TRISH BROWN: As long as I have breath in my body, I'm going to continue to fight for freedom and liberation. And I'm going to always continue to fight for being able to have control over my own body.

MCCARTHY: Brown heads a local advocacy organization. Today, she's hoping to raise awareness about an amendment that protects access to abortion until the point of viability. If enough people sign on, the measure could be on the ballot in 2024. It's a movement Brown thinks could win.

BROWN: We wouldn't be out here fighting the way we are if we didn't believe in what we're fighting for.

MCCARTHY: That fight is happening all over Florida. In Orlando, 1,300 people signed on to the effort at an indie rock concert. In Clearwater, a woman brought petitions to her choir practice. And in Naples, another woman sought support from her book club.

LAUREN BRENZEL: What we're seeing is that the volunteer component of this is absolutely massive and is going to garner us hundreds of thousands of petitions.

MCCARTHY: Lauren Brenzel is the campaign director for Floridians Protecting Freedom, the group leading the push for the amendment. The campaign hopes to gather about a million signatures. That's more than the nearly 892,000 verified signatures needed to make the ballot. So far, organizers say they've collected almost half a million. Brenzel says the grassroots aspect of the campaign means something.

BRENZEL: It says that people are angry about political interference in their decisions about health care.

MCCARTHY: The movement isn't all grassroots. Floridians Protecting Freedom is getting help from groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. More national support is expected once the measure qualifies for the ballot. Then it'll take support from 60% of the voters to change the state constitution. Sarah Standiford is national campaigns director with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She thinks the proposal will clear that threshold.

SARAH STANDIFORD: That's clear from poll after poll. It's clear that the last time a question about abortion access was on the ballot, Floridians voted for the freedom to make private healthcare decisions without governmental intrusion.

MCCARTHY: Standiford is talking about a proposed amendment defeated in 2012 that would have specified Florida's constitution couldn't protect abortion. But how voters feel is only one factor organizers considered when launching this campaign. They also considered the amendment process and Florida's regional importance. It's one of the only remaining Southeastern states that allows abortion after six weeks.

STANDIFORD: As now, 20 states or so have enacted bans of some kind, access to abortion in Florida is particularly important.

MCCARTHY: But not all Floridians feel that way. A proposed amendment to block abortion access in most cases is also moving forward. So far, state data shows about 16,000 people have signed petitions for that amendment. Mark Minck is heading the effort. He says he thinks he has a lot in common with people fighting to protect abortion access.

MARK MINCK: We both want to add a new section to Article 1, which is where basic rights are being listed. We both have our discontentment with the Florida legislature and the actions taken.

MCCARTHY: Minck, who was adopted, says that while the abortion landscape has changed significantly since 2018, when he started working on this initiative, his goal of protecting what he calls unborn life hasn't. It's something he thinks belongs in the state constitution.

MINCK: I want the opportunity to make that case in the court of public opinion and then let the chips fall where they fall. If we fail and we're not approved, at least we spoke on behalf of preborn human lives that can't speak for themselves.

MCCARTHY: Minck acknowledges his amendment campaign isn't moving forward as quickly. He thinks, in part, that's because the repeal of Roe v. Wade energized the people in support of abortion access, while he says the people who would usually support his campaign are still high-fiving each other over the success of the repeal. Minck says the odds of his amendment passing may be low, but he's glad there's a chance for the debate.

For NPR News, I'm Regan McCarthy in Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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