Florida Court Rulings Pose Risks for House Republicans on Abortion

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Representative Anna Paulina Luna, a hard-right Republican from Florida, has proudly described herself as a “pro-life extremist.”

“My husband is a byproduct of rape,” she told a conservative student group in 2022, explaining her support for abortion bans with no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Nobody, she said, deserves “to be the judge, jury and executioner on whether or not he has a right to live or not.”

But the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling this week to allow a six-week abortion ban — and a second decision that would add a proposed constitutional amendment to the ballot in November overturning the ban — could pose political risks for a hard-liner like Ms. Luna. Now she and Representative María Elvira Salazar, another Republican whose Florida district is not solidly red, will have to defend their records of supporting anti-abortion measures at the national level, with control of the House at stake.

The court’s ruling said that the six-week abortion ban could go into effect on May 1. But in a twist, it is also allowing a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee access to abortion “before viability,” around 24 weeks. The twin rulings have suddenly buoyed Democratic hopes of picking off House seats in a state that has long trended toward the right.

“Women and families across Florida are facing a backwards reality because their rights are being stripped away by far-right politicians,” said Lauryn Fanguen, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Anna Paulina Luna and María Elvira Salazar have embraced draconian laws that have forced government-mandated pregnancies — but in November, Floridians will have the opportunity to vote them and their extreme ideologies out of office and protect abortion rights.”

It’s not just Florida. The fate of reproductive rights is expected to be a major issue in House races across the country, especially for vulnerable Republicans who represent districts President Biden won in 2020. Some of those lawmakers have been struggling to appeal to conservative voters who favor severe restrictions without alienating a growing majority of voters who do not.

Representative Michelle Steel, Republican of California, for instance, recently dropped her support for the Life at Conception Act, which amounts to a nationwide abortion ban, because she said it created “confusion” about her position on in vitro fertilization, which she said she supports.

Representative Don Bacon, Republican of Nebraska and a previous co-sponsor of that bill who has also dropped his support, scrubbed his campaign website of the names of anti-abortion groups that have endorsed him, according to Rolling Stone. His “A” rating from the anti-abortion organization SBA Pro-Life America, for instance, is no longer displayed there.

Neither Ms. Luna nor Ms. Salazar has sponsored the legislation.

Abortion bans have become a politically toxic issue for Republicans in elections across the country. But in Florida, the court decisions this week have upped the ante, ensuring that the issue will play a defining role in the November elections.

Ms. Luna is a special case.

She said she was first convinced that life begins at conception in college, when she was dissecting a chicken embryo in a biology lab and watched it twitch away from her scalpel.

“Life does begin at conception, and even something like a chicken can sense danger from a scalpel,” she told “Pro-Life Weekly,” a show on the Eternal Word Television Network, last year. (Ms. Luna said she was so horrified by what she witnessed that she promptly took 60 chicken eggs home with her, hatched them and gave them away to friends.)

Ms. Salazar, a veteran Miami-based news anchor who worked for Telemundo and CNN en Español before running for office, does not share as many vivid personal stories. But this year, she voted to restrict access to the abortion medication mifepristone. Ms. Salazar also voted to eliminate resources for active-duty service members seeking reproductive care, a measure Ms. Luna also supported. Those votes helped both women earn A+ ratings from SBA Pro-Life America.

Ms. Luna and Ms. Salazar both won their seats in 2022, after the Supreme Court had already overturned Roe v. Wade. But with Republicans in control of the House, they now have complicated voting records to defend, and the Florida court’s rulings will put those records front and center in their re-election races.

“It opens up some conversations with voters who normally wouldn’t be open to conversations,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic political operative who helped direct former President Barack Obama’s two general election victories in Florida and now runs a super PAC backing Mr. Biden.

A spokesman for Ms. Luna, Olivia Carson, said the Florida court rulings would have no effect on Ms. Luna’s race, because voters understood that abortion was a state issue. She dismissed the five Democrats vying for the chance to challenge Ms. Luna as unserious candidates.

But in a sign of how damaging the issue of reproductive rights has become for Republicans, Ms. Carson did not highlight the “anti-abortion extremist” record Ms. Luna has been eager to advertise in the past — including her previously stated support for Florida’s six-week abortion ban that she said was “following the science.”

“Representative Luna is focused on inflation, jobs and the economy,” Ms. Carson said. “She is the only Republican in the House of Representatives with legislation on I.V.F.”

That bill, the Right to Try I.V.F. Act of 2024, has been criticized by Democrats as too narrow to be effective. The legislation would disqualify states that ban in vitro fertilization from receiving a federal block grant for mothers and children.

No state has explicitly tried to prohibit such treatments. But a February ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that said frozen embryos should be considered children upheld an abortion ban that had implications for access to I.V.F. Such measures would not be disqualifying under Ms. Luna’s legislation.

In a statement, Ms. Luna avoided stating a position on Florida’s six-week ban and focused instead on the November ballot initiative.

“The Supreme Court returned these decisions to the states where it belongs,” she said. “Our system of government works best when decisions are made at the local level, not in Washington, D.C. These decisions should be made by Florida residents.”

A spokesman for Ms. Salazar did not respond to a request for comment about the Florida court rulings.

Nicole McCleskey, a Republican pollster, said the rulings meant the G.O.P. lawmakers would have to address the issue at some point.

“Hopefully they do so in some clear and compelling way,” she said. “It’s not something they can avoid.” But Ms. McCleskey added that she did not think the issue of abortion would be sufficient for Democrats to win back the House, or the White House.

It is “the only issue they’ve got,” she said. “I’m unconvinced at this point that it’s enough.”

Since arriving in Congress in 2023, Ms. Luna has aligned herself with the hard right on many issues, but her district is far from it: In Pinellas County, Nikki Haley won 18.5 percent of the presidential primary vote despite having already dropped out of the race against former President Donald J. Trump.

Ms. Salazar’s district lies completely within Miami-Dade County. In 2022, Ms. Salazar’s race was considered one of the most competitive in the state, but she defeated her Democratic opponent in a surprise double-digit blowout.

Lucia Báez-Geller, a Miami-Dade school board member challenging Ms. Salazar, said she expected the stringent abortion ban to change that this year.

“There will be no access to abortion in any way,” Ms. Báez-Geller said in an interview. “When the reality of that sets in, people are going to be fed up. Our freedoms are on the ballot this November, but voters are also coming out to vote for who is going to protect their freedom. She has not voted for freedom.”


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