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In Tampa, Biden blames Trump for Florida's abortion ban, says women face health crisis

President Joe Biden wears a blue suit and striped tie and is speaking at a podium that has the American flag behind it.
Meghan Bowman
President Joe Biden addresses a campaign event at Tampa's Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus on April 24, 2024.

Biden argued that Trump created a “health care crisis for women all over this country.” The president was at HCC in Tampa seeking to capitalize on momentum against abortion restrictions nationwide.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday blamed Donald Trump for Florida's upcoming abortion ban and other restrictions across the country that he says have imperiled access to care for pregnant women, arguing Trump has created a “health care crisis for women all over this country.”

Biden's campaign events at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa placed the president in the epicenter of the latest battle over abortion restrictions. The state’s six-week abortion ban is poised to go into effect May 1 at the same time that Florida voters are gearing up for a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution.

Biden said that millions of women are facing “pain and cruelty." “But it’s not inevitable. We can stop it. When you vote, we can stop it."

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The president is seeking to capitalize on momentum against abortion restrictions nationwide to not only buoy his reelection bid in battleground states he won in 2020, but also to go on the offensive against Trump in states that the for president and expected Republican nominee won four years ago. One of those states is Florida, where Biden lost to Trump by 3.3 percentage points.

On Tuesday, he chronicled increasing medical concerns for women in the two years since the Supreme Court ended federal abortion protections.

RELATED Politifact fact-checks Biden's Tampa claim on Trump, abortion

“There was one person who was responsible for this nightmare," Biden said. “And he’s acknowledged it and he brags about it — Donald Trump.”

Biden said Trump, who has publicly waffled on his abortion views and of late has said abortion is a matter for states to decide, is concerned voters will now hold him accountable.

“Folks, the bad news for Trump is that we are going to hold him accountable,” Biden said.

Heidi Davis of Clearwater wore a T-shirt saying "Abortion is Healthcare." She said the issue should have traction for Democrats.

"I think that the majority of the people in Florida as well as across the whole of the United States believe that it's a private medical decision," she said while waiting to get into the event. "It's a decision that takes place between a doctor and a patient, just like any other health care decision, and I think that most Americans support that position."

It's seen by some political analysts as a way to keep Florida in play, as the state increasingly tilts to the right. Davis said she hopes this means Democrats will focus more attention on the state.

"I certainly hope so. I mean, that's my hope but, you know, political analysts try to figure this stuff out all the time and we'll see, we'll see how it plays out," she said.

Lindsay Polega of St. Petersburg said the issue should motivate more Democrats to go to the polls.

"What seems to be interesting is a lot of more Republican voters were the ones moving to the state (during the COVID epidemic)," she said. "So it'll be interesting to see, I think, that nobody can predict if those people are more apathetic voters or if they're excited voters. But I think of that, because we're hearing that on the news, yes, the Dems are coming out because yes, they know that's a possibility."

Sarah Terry of St. Petersburg said the issue has been hijacked by political parties.

"I think it never should have been politicized as blue or red, and I think it never should have been brought outside of the patient room," Terry said. "Family planning is a private, personal matter that typically happens in the house, with assistance from medical providers."

Women getting their picture taken
Steve Newborn
Heidi Davis, left; Lindsay Polega, second from right; and Sarah Terry, right, get their picture taken before going inside for the president's speech.

At the same time, advocates on the ground say support for abortion access cuts across parties. They're intent on making the issue as nonpartisan as possible as they work to scrounge up at least 60% support from voters for the ballot initiative.

That could mean in some cases, Florida voters would split their tickets, backing GOP candidates while supporting the abortion measure.

“I think that normal people are aware that a candidate campaign is really different than a ballot initiative,” said Lauren Brenzel, campaign director for Floridians Protecting Freedom, which gathered signatures to put the abortion question before voters. “You can vote for your preferred candidate of any political party and still not agree with them on every single issue."

Brenzel continued, “This gives voters an opportunity to have their message heard on one policy platform.”

On the same day the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the ballot measure could go before voters, it also upheld the state’s 15-week abortion ban. That subsequently cleared the way for the new ban on the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, which is often before women know they are pregnant, to go into effect next week.

Organizers of the abortion ballot measure say they collected nearly 1.5 million signatures to put the issue before voters, although the state stopped counting at just under a million. Roughly 891,500 signatures were required. Of the total number of signatures, about 35% were from either registered Republican voters or those not affiliated with a party, organizers said.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat, said if the abortion ballot initiative becomes branded as a partisan effort, “it just makes it more challenging to reach 60%.” Eskamani, who worked at Planned Parenthood before running for political office, said she is encouraging the Biden administration to focus broadly on the impact of a six-week ban and let the ballot measure speak for itself.

“At the end of the day, the ballot initiative is going to be a multimillion-dollar campaign that stands very strongly on its own,” Eskamani said.

Trump's campaign did not respond to a question on whether the former president, a Florida voter, would oppose or support the ballot measure. In an NBC interview last September, Trump called Florida’s six-week ban “terrible.” But he has repeatedly highlighted the three conservative-leaning justices he chose for the high court who cleared the way to overturn Roe.

Republicans were dismissive of the Biden campaign and the broader Democratic Party’s efforts to use abortion as a political cudgel, arguing that other issues will matter more with voters in November.

“Biden must have forgotten that thousands of Americans have fled from extremist Democrat policies to prosperous and pro-life states like Florida," said Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Whatley.

Still, Trump and other Republicans are aware that voter backlash against increasing restrictions could be a serious liability this fall.

Abortion-rights supporters have won every time the issue has been put before voters, including in solidly conservative states such as Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio. Last month, a Democrat in a suburban state House district in Alabama flipped the seat from Republican control by campaigning on abortion rights, weeks after in vitro fertilization services had been paused in the state.

Nikki Fried, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said Florida will be a competitive state on the presidential level “because of the extremism that has come out of Florida.” No Democrat has won the state on the presidential level since 2012, but state party officials have found some glimmers of political change in vastly smaller races, such as the open Jacksonville mayor’s race last May that saw a Democrat win in what was once a solidly Republican city.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said at a news conference before the visit that the abortion amendment was written in a way to deliberately mislead voters, an argument that the state Supreme Court disagreed with when it approved the ballot language.

“All I can tell you is Floridians are not buying what Joe Biden is selling and in November we’re going to play an instrumental role in sending him back to Delaware where he belongs," he said.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.