Abortion rights organization wading into Public Defender contests for the first time

Ruth's List Florida's leaders credited a six-week ban on abortion for pushing the organization to endorse Public Defender candidates.

With a bill poised to go into effect that calls for criminalizing abortions, a reproductive rights organization is wading into Public Defender contests and endorsing candidates for the first time in its 15-year history.

Ruth’s List Florida is dedicated to electing women politicians who support the right to an abortion. And in that vein, the organization is throwing its weight behind Democrat Lisa McLean, who is competing in a Primary to become the Public Defender of Hillsborough County, and Melissa Vickers, a currently unopposed Public Defender candidate in the Orlando area judicial circuit.

Christina Diamond, CEO of Ruth’s List Florida, called both women “exceedingly qualified” and sure to bring a “renewed dignity” to the criminal justice system.

“It’s important to note the political climate we’re facing in Florida, where women can be criminalized for exerting and making medical decisions about their own bodies,” Diamond said. “Now is the time for us to ensure that women like Lisa and Melissa are in positions of power to provide equality and justice for all.”

Currently, abortion is not allowed after the 15th week of pregnancy due to legislation (HB 5) state lawmakers passed in 2022. A state Supreme Court ruling is due on whether that law violates a constitutional right of privacy.

If the court finds it does not, a ban on the procedure after the sixth week of pregnancy, which lawmakers passed earlier this year, will automatically go into effect 30 days after the ruling.

Unlike the 2022 law, the latest legislation (SB 300) also would make “any person who willfully performs or actively participates in a termination of pregnancy” punishable with a third-degree felony charge. Some states have taken that to mean anyone who helps a pregnant woman seeking an abortion.

On the campaign trail, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the six-week ban’s strictures and penalties only apply to medical practitioners. Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book filed a “glitch bill” for the 2024 Session to make sure that is the case.

“We’re not just going to take his word for it. We’re fighting to ensure it,” Book said when she filed the measure to which Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando later filed an identical companion (HB 111).

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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