Florida anti-choice activists have launched a campaign to amend the state’s constitution to ban abortion care and classify the procedure as first-degree murder, which under state law is punishable by the death penalty.
The measure would not only make a pregnant person seeking an abortion and the physician performing the procedure eligible for the death penalty, but people who use any number of birth control methods would conceivably be subject to execution by the state.
“Any person who performs or procures an abortion shall be guilty of premeditated murder in the first degree, and any person who attempts to perform or procure an abortion shall be guilty of felony attempted murder,” reads the ballot initiative summary.
Under Florida law, first-degree murder is punishable by life in prison or death.
The proposed amendment describes an “unborn human being” at the “moment of fertilization,” and defines abortion care as the “use or prescription of any instrument, medicine, drug, or any other substance or device, to intentionally kill an unborn human being.”
Proponents claim the ballot initiative would not “affect the legality of contraceptive birth control,” but the group claims the amendment would ban the morning after pill, intrauterine devices (IUDs), contraceptive implants, and hormonal birth control pills.
The ballot initiative does not include any exceptions in the case of rape or incest.
“Let’s be very clear what this initiative proposes. Its supporters want to put doctors and patients in jail for life–or have them executed by the state–for accessing hormonal birth control or abortion,” said Rewire’s Vice President of Law and the Courts, Jessica Mason Pieklo.
“The idea that taking the birth control pill is the equivalent of first-degree premeditated murder would be laughably absurd if it were not so immediately dangerous to patients and providers,” said Pieklo. “And it is patently false to claim this measure wouldn’t outlaw contraception. It does [outlaw conception] with the minor exception of condoms by defining abortion so broadly as to include all forms of hormonal birth control.”
Abolish Abortion Florida (AAFL), proponents of the ballot initiative, claims that the purpose of the campaign is not only to collect the required number of signatures to place the proposed amendment on the ballot, but convince lawmakers to introduce legislation that outlaws abortion care.
AAFL, a self-described group of “evangelical Christians,” rejects the term “pro-life” and embraces the term “abolitionist.” AAFL is associated with the fringe anti-choice movement known as Abolish Human Abortion.
Like other so-called abolitionists, AAFL is opposed to laws designed to restrict access to abortion services, a strategy that the mainstream anti-choice movement has employed in a state legislatures in recent years.
“The Supreme Court cannot make murder legal,” Bonnie Coffey, AAFL spokesperson, said in a statement.
“Pro-life politicians have passed incremental regulations for decades, but it’s time to abolish abortion by recognizing it for what it is–cold-blooded murder–and prosecuting it accordingly,” Coffey said.
Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Broadly that the petition is “cruel and misguided,” and just the latest attempt to restrict reproductive rights.
“These types of extreme proposals are wildly unpopular with the public and have failed every single time they have been put before voters,” Allen said. “It’s blatantly unconstitutional and shows the true colors of abortion opponents: to punish some who need reproductive health care.”
Amending the Florida’s constitution poses a significant challenge.
Florida law requires that for a constitutional amendment to be approved, proponents must collect valid signatures from registered voters that is equal to 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last presidential election.
The number of signatures AAFL must collect to have the proposed amendment placed on the 2018 ballot depends on the number of votes cast in the presidential election on November 8.
The petition was approved by the Florida Department of State on September 16, and proponents must submit the required number of signatures for verification prior to February 1, 2018.
The initiative will need to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters to amend the constitution.