Rights Behind the Headlines: Gov. DeSantis resorts to authoritarian tactics to impose his extremist views on Floridians’ right to abortion care

Rights Behind the Headlines is a new blog series from the ACLU of Florida that dispels misinformation and gives Floridians critical information about the most pressing issues facing our state. Read the full series at aclufl.org/rightsbehindtheheadlines 

Today, we’re unpacking Gov. DeSantis’ erosion of abortion rights in Florida by signing into law HB 5, a ban that restricts abortion after 15 weeks. Floridians' right to privacy is included in our state constitution and has been affirmed by voters for the last four decades. We are also unpacking prosecutorial discretion and the free speech rights of Florida state attorneys. Read the headline from Politico here: DeSantis suspends state attorney who vowed not to enforce Florida's new abortion law

In the fight to protect abortion rights in Florida, House Bill (HB 5) has been at the center of a legal battle with Gov. DeSantis, who continues to ignore the will of Floridians. 

Filed in July 2022, our legal battle to challenge HB 5 continues in court. Two-thirds of Floridians support the right to abortion, and voters have consistently cast their ballot to ensure that the state constitution provides independent protection for the right to privacy. Those privacy rights have been recognized by the Florida Supreme Court for decades. Yet, this law was passed without regard to those constitutional protections–and on the basis of claims that counter medical experts.

HB 5 is blatantly unconstitutional under the state constitution. All Floridians should have the right to make private medical care decisions with their doctors and with the people they love without government and political interference. No one should be forced to carry a pregnancy against their will. . HB 5, which went into effect this summer, has already had a devastating impact on Floridians. 

What does this have to do with State Attorney Andrew Warren? In August, Gov. DeSantis announced that he was immediately suspending State Attorney Warren, the state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, which serves Hillsborough County. 

His reasoning? Gov. DeSantis targeted State Attorney Warren for signing onto a joint statement by over 80 elected prosecutors across the country vowing to use their discretion wisely and focus their limited resources on prosecuting the perpetrators of violent crimes and on keeping their communities safe. 

Florida law gives independently elected state attorneys broad discretion to determine how best to seek justice in individual cases they are responsible for prosecuting. 

Hillsborough County constituents twice elected State Attorney Warren to assume this position and use his discretion under state law. 

Duly elected state attorneys should not have to fear being targeted for exercising their prosecutorial discretion over which cases they will prioritize, simply because it does not align with the governor's political agenda. The Governor’s ousting of an elected official who does not align with his extremist views on abortion is authoritarian and anti-democratic. 

State Attorney Warren has since challenged his suspension in court. The case is moving forward. 

This tactic is part of a larger effort from Gov. DeSantis to take punitive action against people, organizations, or businesses who disagree with his agenda. These attacks won’t stop with abortion; the same politicians seeking to control the bodies of pregnant people are coming for our right to access birth control and gender-affirming care, to marry whom we love, and even to vote. 

Despite the efforts by Gov. DeSantis and extremist politicians, Floridians have the power to vote for their values this November – the Governor and every Florida legislator who voted in favor of the abortion ban is up for re-election. We have the power to elect individuals who will protect our rights and not take them away.