Rahi Patel, a 20-year-old pre-med student at the University of Florida, only recently started paying attention to state politics. Before, she did not consider herself politically engaged.
“I just have, like, a very introverted personality. I tend to not get involved in conflict,” she told the Phoenix.
But over the summer, reality set in: The nearly 50-year landmark Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade was gone, leaving state legislatures to determine whether to restrict access to abortion or protect it. The first hint was a draft opinion leaked in May.
“I, like, in general just wasn’t really knowledgeable about abortion — it’s not like something they really teach in school — until they dropped the [draft] opinion in May,” Patel said.
“And at this time, I was applying to medical school. I want to be an OB-GYN, so I just kind of wanted to learn more. And I was really frustrated, personally, because I don’t think that personal morality is something you can legalize or criminalize,” she added.
The shocking U.S. Supreme Court written opinion that followed in June spelled the end for federal abortion protections and has led some women, like Patel, to pay more attention to state politics.
And with the impending 2022 General Election in Florida, newly energized women voters will have a chance to shape the Legislature that will decide what the law will allow — not to mention who will sit in the Governor’s office.
Summer Supreme Court Decision
That ruling, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, threw decisions about how abortions are regulated to state lawmakers, meaning that one’s access to abortion will vary from state to state.
For Patel, the UF student, news of the draft decision led to her involvement with Planned Parenthood.
“Something that I tend to do when I’m feeling a lot of emotions is write about it. And so I had just, like, written about abortion in general, and just more of a public health approach, because that’s where my interests lie,” Patel said. “And I just wrote an article for myself — it was primarily for myself. But then I was like, ‘What if it, like, got around town or something?’
“So I reached out to Planned Parenthood and I asked if I could have their logo on it, have it put around town, and that’s exactly what we did.” The article she wrote is called “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Life Without Roe v. Wade.”
Patel continues to volunteer with the organization.
Florida has already seen significant restrictions on abortion, and it’s not clear how the future looks here.
Gov. Ron DeSantis approved Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban, which prohibits most abortions after that time with no exceptions for rape or incest but only for fatal fetal abnormalities to protect the life of the pregnant person.
In 2020, DeSantis and the Legislature approved a law that requires parental consent for a minor to receive an abortion in most situations.
And there have been additional efforts to restrict abortion even further, including a Texas-styled six-week abortion ban proposed by state Rep. Webster Barnaby during the 2022 Legislative Session. While it gained no traction, some fear, or hope, that a six-week ban and further restrictions are now on the table.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has stated interest in additional abortion restrictions, though he’s been cagey about details.
‘Really energizing a lot of women’
The League of Women Voters of Florida believes that the Dobbs decision and the new political landscape could drive people to the polls.
“I think that’s really energizing a lot of young women,” Cecile Scoon, president of the League’s Florida branch, told the Phoenix.
“I’m definitely hearing that but people are taking this very seriously and perceiving it as a threat to their ability to manage their lives and privacy and all of that,” Scoon said. “So I think we’re gonna continue to see an increase of people getting active.”
Scoon explained that a lack of access to abortion may lead to difficulties in staying civically engaged for women and those who can become pregnant.
“Controlling your fertility and helping your family, for a woman, in particular, is directly related to your ability to be civically engaged,” Scoon told the Phoenix. “Whether it means you have more time to research or go to a rally or even run for office yourself, maintaining your family and trying to maintain your responsibilities directly tied to your fertility.”
New female voters?
The New York Times reported that, although there have been some increases in voter registration among women in Florida following the Dobbs decision, there hasn’t been a huge surge.
Before the Supreme Court leak, women comprised 50% of new Florida voters. After the leak, that figure went up by only two percentage points, meaning 52% of new registered Florida voters were women.
“In Florida, the total number of new registrants swelled ahead of the state’s Primary Election, but the increase in the percentage who were women was small,” The Times reported.
This is in contrast to states like Kansas, where 49% of new registered voters were women before the draft opinion leak, jumping up to 65% after the final Dobbs decision.
That said, DeSantis, himself, enjoys less approval among Florida women compared to men, according to a Mason-Dixon survey released Wednesday. Only 46% of females surveyed approved of DeSantis’s performance as governor. Compare that to 64% of males who approved of his performance.
The poll ran from Sept. 26 through Sept. 28, surveying 800 registered voters throughout the state.
In addition, the women surveyed were more likely to vote for DeSantis’ Democratic opponent, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, if the election were held right now — 48% of women said they would vote for Crist, while 45% said they would vote for DeSantis.
Abortion is one of the major issues in considering November votes, according to a poll from Siena College Research Institute issued by Spectrum News.
Conducted in the week of Sept. 18 through Sept. 25, the survey showed 57% of 669 of the Florida voters contacted opposed the U.S. Supreme Court Decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, with 65% of women and 48% of men opposing the move.
“Consistently, we’re hearing from voters how disturbed they are by this decision, and we’re not just talking to like super Democratic voters. We’re talking to voters from a whole range of viewpoints and political parties, and we know that the vast majority of Floridians don’t support restrictions on abortion,” Lauren Brenzel of Planned Parenthood told the Phoenix.
Brenzel said that Planned Parenthood is working toward encouraging people to vote and that she believes the Dobbs decision will get new voters, including women, to go to the polls.
“We know that young people need to get out to the polls. We know that women need to get out to the polls. It isn’t a matter of just looking at registration and party numbers. The reality is if we get people out to the polls and they vote for pro-reproductive rights candidates — that is how you stop a six-week abortion ban,” Brenzel said.
Danielle Brown reporting via Florida Phoenix.
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