A Democratic legislator wound up sparring with members of the Ron DeSantis administration and other Republicans on social media after she sharply criticized a top official for speaking in favor of the state’s new 15-week ban on abortion.
Rep. Anna Eskamani took aim at Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Simone Marstiller, whose agency is in charge of regulating abortion providers in the state. Shortly before Gov. DeSantis signed the measure at a Central Florida church, Marstiller told the crowd gathered there about how she had an unwanted pregnancy when she was just 19 and still in college.
“I hope hearing my story will encourage someone out there to make a choice and choose life, do not believe the narrative that a baby will ruin your life and that abortion is the right choice. You will be fine, and all will be well,” Marstiller said.
Eskamani’s initial tweet said, “Wow. The Secretary of AHCA who oversees abortion providers in Florida is currently speaking about her anti-abortion stance. How is that appropriate?! She’s a public administrator not a politician!”
Eskamani, who opposed the new law and previously worked for Planned Parenthood, continued her tweets by pointing out that agency heads usually refuse to opine on proposed bills when they go before the Legislature.
“Sharing personal stories is one thing, expressing a political statement is different,” Eskamani added in a later tweet.
Marstiller is no stranger to social media. Since joining Twitter in 2011, she has 22,700 tweets. But she did not respond to Eskamani directly. Instead, those who work for the Governor and Marstiller shot back on Marstiller’s behalf.
Christina Pushaw, the Press Secretary for DeSantis, said, “Secretary Marstiller courageously told her own personal story. Why do progressives want to silence women?”
Brock Juarez, the communications director for AHCA who works directly for Marstiller, said, “Let me make something clear: Secretary (Marstiller) told her own personal story as a young single mother who worked hard, while raising her daughter, to get an education and have a very successful career. It was inspiring. It was empowering. And I am damn proud she is my boss.”
Other Republicans, including Alan Levine, who once worked as AHCA Secretary, called Marstiller: “A great public servant. A strong and determined woman. A colleague with integrity.”
He added, “And her voice is important. I’ve been in the trenches with her and I’d have no better person by my side. Her story is compelling and I applaud her for telling it.”
A lawyer and former judge, Marstiller has spent most of her career in state government, including stints as the head of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation as well as Deputy Chief of Staff for then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Marstiller to the 1st District Court of Appeal in 2010. She resigned in 2015.
Marstiller considered running for Attorney General in 2018, a position she described as her “dream job.” But in a Facebook post, she said running wasn’t financially feasible for her and she took herself out of the race.
DeSantis first appointed her to lead the Department of Juvenile Justice, but then moved Marstiller to the post of AHCA Secretary in February 2021. Earlier in her career, Martsiller had worked for AHCA as an attorney handling the appeals of those challenging disciplinary actions taken by the agency.