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The Supreme Court abortion leak fuels debate among Florida's lawmakers

Exterior of US Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Democrats say it's a "raid on women’s rights" while Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state's abortion law is “the strongest that Florida has seen in decades.”

A leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision ignited a sense of urgency Tuesday among Florida Democrats while drawing praise from Republicans.

Authored by Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. and supported by other members of the conservative majority of the Supreme Court, the draft opinion was reported Monday night by Politico. Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday confirmed that the leaked document was authentic.

The 98-page draft, if it comes to fruition, would rescind the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and allow states to make their own decisions on abortion. However, a news release that accompanied Roberts’ statement Tuesday said the draft “does not represent a decision by the court or the final position” of any of its members.

The draft was made public just shy of two months before a new Florida law will go into effect prohibiting most abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy. Gov. Ron DeSantis last month signed the measure, which will take effect July 1. Roe v. Wade generally has allowed women to have abortions until about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Responding to the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion Tuesday, DeSantis touted the new state abortion law as “the strongest that Florida has seen in decades” and said the state is prepared to defend it from lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.

“We think we’re going to win there, but that is going to be something that we have to do. At the end of the day, it’s a mistake to read the federal Constitution to completely prohibit any pro-life protections. That’s not consistent with the text history structure. I don’t know if that (Supreme Court) opinion is going to be the actual opinion, Roberts said that’s not going to be … final, so who knows what’s going on behind the scenes,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Fort Myers Beach.

But state House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, gave a more emphatic endorsement of the draft opinion.

“I have long believed Roe v. Wade represents an abuse of power to manufacture law by judicial fiat. I eagerly await the official & final opinion issued by the Court. The leak however, is a stunning breach of trust & lack of honor by the individual responsible,” Sprowls wrote in a tweet.

Meanwhile, Democrats braced for what they called a “raid on women’s rights” and quickly organized protests across the state.

“We are walking into a post-Roe world. This is the reality that exists for my daughter that never existed for me. It is a very dangerous world that we are living in,” state Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said.

Book told The News Service of Florida that Democrats, who are heavily outnumbered in the Legislature, will need voters to rally in support of candidates during the November elections to combat further restrictions to abortion access.

“People need to go and vote. We need the numbers. The reality is, and I’ve gotten a lot of questions today about … will the governor add a further restriction on abortion in a special (legislative) session. We know that the governor can do anything he wants, and the Republican-driven Legislature will follow suit and do whatever it is he is asking for,” Book said.

DeSantis has called a special session starting May 23 to address the state’s beleaguered property-insurance system.

Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, decried the potential Supreme Court ruling’s effect on other Republican-led states that have abortion laws that would be triggered by a decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Immediately, about 25 states will ban abortion, they have trigger laws in place. So, within days, within hours of the Supreme Court ruling, abortion will be banned in nearly half the United States of America,” Skidmore said.

Promising that “the fight is just beginning,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running for governor this year, held a rally in Miami to try to energize potential voters. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, another Democrat running for governor, said in a statement that the issue will be “front and center” in the gubernatorial race.

The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates advertised a rally to be held Tuesday afternoon outside the Florida Supreme Court.

“We are devastated, we are furious, and we will fight back. This draft opinion is outrageous, and unprecedented, but it is not final. Abortion is still legal in Florida. As of today, it remains your constitutional right,” Stephanie Fraim, president of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida said in a statement.

But groups that oppose abortion cheered the potential decision.

“The state has a compelling interest in protecting human life that is vulnerable, especially at that age. This is a huge day for those of us who have worked almost all of our lives to see this moment happen,” John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, said.

DeSantis, who went to law school at Harvard, focused much of his remarks Tuesday on the leaking of the draft opinion, characterizing it as an act of political intimidation. The draft is part of a case about a Mississippi law, similar to the new Florida law, that would prevent abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“To have that leak out the way it did was really unprecedented. I think it was really an attack on a lot of the justices. I think it was an intentional thing to try to whip up a lot of the public and to try to make it very political,” DeSantis said.

Roberts called the leak a “singular and egregious breach” of trust that the court has with employees to keep such internal communications confidential.

“To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed. The work of the court will not be affected in any way,” Roberts said in a statement.