The most interesting thing about this Times piece is which pro-lifers are growing impatient with DeSantis and which aren’t.
The local guys in Florida? Impatient. They’re happy that the state has a new ban on abortion after 15 weeks that was signed by DeSantis, but it’s not nearly enough. Why not a six-week ban like Texas had last year? For that matter, why not a total ban? Republicans control the governor’s mansion and the state legislature. There’s nothing stopping them except cold feet and political calculation.
The national pro-life leaders, though? They’re plenty patient. “Ron DeSantis is one of the best governors in the country, and I believe that he will work to pass the most conservative bill he can possibly get through the Legislature,”
said the head of Concerned Women for America when asked for comment by the Times about DeSantis’s low profile on abortion lately. Ralph Reed went further, saying, “There are no concerns or reservations about his pro-life convictions… And for that reason, I think he’s going to have running room to make his own decision when it comes to taking the next steps with legislation to protect unborn children.”
National leaders are thinking ahead to the prospect of President DeSantis and being careful not to make an enemy of him. Local leaders are focused on the here and now of Governor DeSantis, wanting him to do more.
DeSantis himself is torn between those two scenarios. The 15-week ban is a deft compromise in a purple state, something a majority can live with it. But ardent pro-lifers find it unacceptable, knowing that nearly all terminations happen within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. DeSantis’s new law will barely make a ripple in abortion practices there, which leaves him in a bind. If he pushes a more draconian law immediately then he’s at risk of a backlash at the polls in his gubernatorial race this fall. If he doesn’t push a more draconian law immediately then he’ll be eviscerated for it in a 2024 primary by the likes of Greg Abbott, who’s spent the past two years trying to keep pace with DeSantis on policy. “I govern a purple state too but I wasn’t afraid to ban abortion completely, at the first opportunity!” Abbott will say on the debate stage. What will DeSantis say back? Who wins the “he fights!” bragging rights in that case?
The media’s begun to notice DeSantis’s uncharacteristically low profile on the hottest culture-war debate of the decade. So have some of his allies.
Though he has spoken about wanting to prevent abortions from taking place late in pregnancy — a far less controversial stance than pushing for an outright ban — he has said nothing about calling a special session to enact additional restrictions, as anti-abortion activists hope he will…
“There’s an enormous expectation,” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, a conservative Christian group. “I think he realizes this is something that has to be dealt with.”…
Andrew Shirvell, founder and executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, described Mr. DeSantis as “a tremendous ally for the pro-life movement,” but expressed some impatience with his silence on abortion since the Supreme Court’s decision.
“It is frustrating that the governor doesn’t speak out more about this,” he said. “But I attribute that to other pressures going on just months before the election.”
State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, one of the noisiest populists in Florida government, also believes that the powers that be are dragging their feet on passing a total ban. But Sabatini is ambitious and understands the rules of toadying in the modern GOP, so he was careful recently to blame the legislature rather than DeSantis for the slow pace of reform. “It’s a cowardly pretext they’re using to deflect public pressure for them to act,” Sabatini said of the “let the litigation play out” strategy. “It’s obvious. Come on, if you’re really pro-life you’re going to do everything you can to further protections for the unborn. They’re just trying to kick the can down the road because they don’t want to deal with it.” Then, to make clear that he wasn’t blaming DeSantis, he added, “The governor is constantly having to carry the Legislature on his back because it’s chock full of cowards.”
I don’t know, Anthony. The governor doesn’t seem to be in any rush to get a new bill on the floor either.
DeSantis’s excuse for not moving to pass new legislation is that litigation over the 15-week ban is still playing out. Let that litigation advance, see how the solidly conservative Florida Supreme Court rules on it, and then the legislature can circle back to pass a stricter ban, or so the thinking goes. But that’s a play for time, nothing more. The legislature could pass a new ban of whatever duration right now, mooting the 15-week ban. DeSantis simply doesn’t want to confront this issue before Election Day, fearing that a stricter ban would cause Democratic turnout against him to skyrocket.
And he’s right to fear that. New data from his home state via the University of South Florida:
Less than 30 percent want to see abortion completely banned with or without exceptions. When asked if they’d like to see Congress pass a federal law banning abortion nationally, just 21 percent said they’d strongly or somewhat support doing so.
Not a great issue for DeSantis. Once he’s safely past reelection I assume he’ll move quickly to pass a stricter abortion ban in the name of protecting his right flank in a 2024 presidential primary. But until November? He’s going to try to lie low.
The question is whether circumstances will cooperate with him. Florida’s 15-week ban is now one of the most liberal abortion regimes of any state in the American south and of any state whose government is controlled by Republicans. That means it’s likely to attract pregnant women from neighboring states in the months ahead who are seeking abortions and don’t have the means to fly across the country to get one. “Ron DeSantis’s Florida has become an abortion mill” is not a headline that would redound to DeSantis’s benefit in the 2024 primaries. If the 15-week ban leads to that, he’ll have to act sooner than he prefers.
One Florida Democrat has an interesting way out of the abortion wars for his party — and for DeSantis:
If women’s reproductive rights are now left up to the states, then it should be left up to the PEOPLE of those states, not the legislature. Let’s put it on the ballot.
— Florida State Senator Jason Pizzo (@senpizzo) July 7, 2022
If you want to maximize the number of people in a given state who view its post-Roe abortion regime as fair and legitimate, a popular referendum is the obvious way to go. A referendum would also get DeSantis off the hook politically for whatever Floridians choose. “The people have spoken” he’ll say. How could Abbott or any other 2024 rival fault him for pro-choice laws enacted by plebiscite?
The catch, however, is that to put abortion on the ballot three-fifths of both houses of Florida’s legislature would need to endorse doing so. That means multiple Republicans in each chamber would need to agree to disempower their own caucus — and DeSantis — by handing this issue off to voters instead of enacting legislation themselves. Does that seem likely? If DeSantis consented to it, that in itself would be used by Abbott etc. against him in 2024. “He doesn’t fight! He punts!” No easy answers for the governor on this one.