A Response to Florida Family Policy Council Regarding Citizen Initiatives


John Stemberger of Florida Family Policy Council recently published a newsletter article entitled:

"Our Position on Pro-Life Petition Campaigns to Amend the Florida Constitution". We have copied the newsletter in its entirety here, along with Abolish Abortion Florida's response.

"There are currently three pro-life citizen initiative petition drives registered in Florida to attempt to amend the state constitution. Unfortunately, they all have different leaders sponsoring them and each has different proposed language.” 

Mr. Stemberger is mistaken.  To our knowledge, there have never been three active abortion-related initiatives at one time. Currently, there is only one active “pro-life” citizen initiative: the Human Life Protection Amendment. Abolish Abortion Florida officially closed our petition drive in 2018, over four years ago, as reflected by the state's database. Personhood Florida officially closed theirs on October 20, but made it known beforehand that they would defer to the Human Life Protection Amendment. Both Personhood Florida and Abolish Abortion Florida have put our support fully behind the Human Life Protection Amendment.

“The problem we are all trying to solve as pro-lifers in Florida is that we have our own state version of Roe vs. Wade. This bad case, decided by the Florida Supreme Court in 1989 called 'In Re TW' created a state right to abortion using a good informational privacy clause in our state constitution (adopted by Floridians in 1980). Our current strategy, agreed upon by leading state and national pro-life leaders and pro-life lawyers, is to get rid of this bad case the same way we got rid of Roe vs. Wade. Bad judges created the abortion right in Florida, and now good judges in Florida will reverse and overturn it.”

We at AAFL have long acknowledged that Florida has its own “mini-Roe.” We agree that TW is a bad case, and that it should be overturned. We agree that Florida's Privacy Act has nothing to do with killing babies. However, we disagree vehemently with Mr. Stemberger's “current strategy, agreed upon by the leading state and national pro-life leaders and pro-life lawyers.” The current pro-life strategy is to wait for the courts and do nothing while babies die. AAFL’s leading state, national, and abolitionist leaders and lawyers maintain that no state has the authority to “create an abortion right,” as the right to life is God-given. Therefore, AAFL maintains that TW is null and void, and should be completely ignored now, just like Roe v. Wade should have been ignored back in 1973. The language of the proposed Human Life Protection Amendment would do just that.

"A 2022 law protecting unborn children from abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy passed by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Governor DeSantis is currently on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. Florida’s Supreme Court is now widely considered one of the country’s most conservative and textualist state courts, and most of the justices are personally pro-life. It will take several months, perhaps even more than a year, but we believe the Florida high court will eventually hear and review the 15-week law. Even liberal commentators expect the court to eventually overturn Florida’s abortion 'right'. So, at this point, our thirty-three years of work have paid off with winning elections and getting great judicial appointments and we are set to see a similar reversal of Florida’s Roe vs. Wade."

Mr. Stemberger is referencing the so-called 15-week abortion ban. If you think of TW as Florida's "mini-Roe," think of the 15-week ban as Florida's "mini-Dobbs." Florida's pro-life legislature modeled the language of the 15-week bill virtually identically to the Dobbs case that led to the overturn of Roe. They did this specifically to challenge Florida's mini-Roe in exactly the same way that the Dobbs case challenged the US Supreme Court's Roe. Indeed, it seems likely that our mini-Roe will eventually be overturned. In the meantime, however, one child is executed by abortion in Florida approximately every 6.6 minutes.

Further, what Mr. Stemberger and the Florida pro-life community refuse to admit is that this pro-life 15-week "ban" actually fails to protect over 96% of the babies vulnerable to abortion. The sponsors, Kelli Stargel and Erin Grall, freely admitted the 15-week ban was not intended to impede abortion in any way. And yet Mr. Stemberger, Governor DeSantis, the Florida legislature, and the Florida pro-life movement have repeatedly and profusely praised the 15-week ban, celebrating it as "one of the strongest pro-life protections in Florida's history." We shudder to think how this can possibly be considered a victory. While we praise God for every life saved, we cannot congratulate the pro-life movement on its "thirty-three years of work," which might result -- at best -- in a mere 75,000 children being led to the slaughter per year as opposed to 80,000. Our question to Mr. Stemberger is this: If our mini-Roe is overturned and our 15-week ban is upheld, what then? Are we going to continue with a law that spares barely three percent of Florida's 80,000 preborns from child sacrifice?

"It is critical to understand that the text of our constitution is not the problem. The problem lies with the liberal activist judges on the court in 1989 that clearly misinterpreted it. Therefore, we do not need to amend our state Constitution to 'fix' our constitution because there is no abortion right in it.

"That is one of the main reasons we do not support petition-based attempts to amend our state constitution on life issues.  

Abolish Abortion Florida can agree with Mr. Stemberger in principal that we should not have to amend our state Constitution to "fix" it. We agree that there is no abortion right in it. We would go even further than that, in fact, and maintain that the right to life of every human being, both born and unborn, is commanded by God and protected by our state and our US Constitution. However, it has long been the case that we must spell out that which should go without saying.

A case in point is the marriage amendment that Mr. Stemberger describes below. Nothing in our constitution protected homosexual marriage. A simple state statute could have resolved the issue. But Mr. Stemberger and his team wanted a Constitutional amendment, and they got one passed. We have several seemingly irrelevant Constitutional amendments. Some were citizen initiatives, and some weren't. We even have a citizen-led Constitutional amendment protecting pregnant pigs. (Article X, Section 21). That's right, we care more about the treatment of pigs than we do the treatment of preborn people. Why should a pig's welfare be specifically protected in our Constitution, but the welfare of preborn human beings not be?

"There are at least five other reasons we do not support these efforts: 1) We should learn from Kansas’ failure. The state of Kansas just tried to pass a pro-life amendment in August of this year and the effort failed miserably. The pro-life side spent over $10 million on the initiative. When an amendment like this fails, it gives perfect cover for weak politicians to hide behind the results and say, “The people have spoken and we should not try to pass any more pro-life laws.” Kansas pro-lifers will spend decades now trying to dig themselves out of the hole they created by trying and failing to pass a pro-life state constitutional amendment. Leading state and national pro-life organizations are hoping that Florida and other states do not make the same mistake as Kansas." 

AAFL agrees we should not make the same mistake as Kansas. Kansas did not try to abolish child murder in obedience to the Lord. Kansas made vague references to abortion rights and failed to succinctly spell out the God-given right to life of every human being. The Value-them-Both amendment was a weak-sauce effort to allow the regulation of child murder. The Florida Human Life Protection Amendment does not make this mistake.

Let's take a look at the Kansas' so-called "Value them Both" language: "Because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion. To the extent permitted by the constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.

Compare that to the Human Life Protection Amendment:

"Article I, New Section. Preborn Human Life. 

(a) RIGHT. The right to life of the preborn individual is God-given, thus unalienable and recognized accordingly. Therefore, it shall not be infringed at any stage of development. 

(b) DEFINITION. The term “preborn individual” in this section means a preborn human person at any stage of development. 

(c) APPLICABILITY. The unintentional death of a preborn individual shall not be construed to violate this section when resulting from, 

(1) the undertaking of life-saving procedures to save the life of the mother when accompanied by reasonable steps to save the life of the preborn individual, 

(2) a spontaneous miscarriage, or spontaneous fetal demise. 

(d) EFFECTIVE DATE. This amendment shall become effective immediately upon approval by the voters. 

(e) IMPLEMENTATION. Upon the effective date of this section, all laws, judicial precedents, and acts contrary to this section shall be null, void, and deemed repealed to the extent of any conflict with this section."

Can you see the difference? Ours is far more precise and definitive language. "Valuing them both" did nothing to actually save the ones being led to slaughter.

Further, the "weak politicians" Mr. Stemberger warns about are the very ones who just passed the 15-week ban which fails to save 96% of Florida's preborn. Floridians who truly love the Lord and love their neighbors need to become outraged, leap off of the pro-life hamster wheel, and demand that child murder be treated as child murder; not regulated like healthcare. We need to throw weak pro-life regulators out of office, and vote in abolitionists.

"2) Very difficult to get on the ballot and even more difficult to pass. Florida is the only state in the nation to require a 60 percent passage rate for a constitutional amendment. It is an extremely high bar. But before you can get an amendment on the ballot, you must collect almost a million voters’ signatures in support of the language. After the sponsoring group collects the first ten percent of petitions needed, the Florida Supreme Court will conduct a single subject review. If the court finds the language deals with more than one subject and or is misleading, the language will not be approved. The petition is then struck down and the campaign is over. None of the three pro-life petition campaigns currently in progress have ever collected the ten percent needed to get a Supreme Court review, even though some of these petition efforts have been around for several years."

Abolish Abortion Florida is absolutely astounded that a Christian pro-life organization such as Florida Family Policy Council would recommend against a God-honoring effort because the odds are stacked against it.

Yes, we need to collect a large number of petitions to get Supreme Court review, and an even greater number of petitions to get the proposed Human Life Protection Amendment onto the ballot. Yes, we will need a 60% supermajority to get the Amendment passed. We would point out that according to our research, Florida is not the only state to require a supermajority. Illinois also requires 60%, and New Hampshire requires a 2/3 majority. Nevertheless, we admit this will be a daunting task. However:


The attorneys reviewing the Human Life Protection Amendment are confident that it will pass the single-subject requirement. No reasonable person could find its language misleading. And with all of us working together, there is no reason why we should not be able to gather enough petitions to get this matter onto the ballot.

"3) The three amendment sponsors do not have the finances, networks, or grassroots support to win. Passing a state constitutional amendment by a citizen initiative is an extremely difficult process and requires millions of dollars. I know, as I am one of the few persons in Florida that has ever done it, with the marriage amendment campaign from 2005-2008. Even with the full support of Florida Baptists, Catholics, many other church denominations, and every pro-family group in the country, we still did not make the first deadline for signatures after two years. Under a new law, the signatures don’t carry over after two years. If not for a major donor gift that was totally unexpected, we would have never even finished collecting a million marriage petitions by the deadline. The current amendment efforts do not have the finances or support from major pro-life groups or denominational church leaders."

It is more than a bit disingenuous for the largest pro-life group in the state to insist that a citizen initiative cannot succeed because it is not getting support from the largest pro-life group in the state. Perhaps if Florida Family Policy Council and Florida Right to Life actually supported the abolition of abortion as murder rather than regulating it as healthcare, we could get more people on board. Again, WITH GOD, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. Even Mr. Stemberger admits he didn't expect to get enough signatures on his proposed marriage amendment until an unexpected donor gift came through on the petition's second go-round. But he did not give up, and his marriage amendment passed. Perhaps instead of condemning our efforts, Mr. Stemberger could encourage his supporters to pray for God's divine providence and actually lend their hands (and pocketbooks) to help us succeed.

"4) We must focus all our efforts on defeating the pro-abortion amendment that will likely be on the ballot in 2024. I predict that in 2024 we will see a George Soros-like group mount a serious and well-funded campaign to amend the constitution to pass an abortion rights amendment creating an express right to abortion in the state constitution since one does not exist in the text of the constitution now. We will need every bit of time, energy, focus, and financial resources to defeat this amendment and to elect a pro-life President in 2024. We cannot be distracted."

2024? Reminder: one preborn human being is brutally murdered in Florida every 6.6 minutes; 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Mr. Stemberger is suddenly suggesting we skip forward two years to 2024. What happened to 2023? What happened to right now? At the current rate, at least 160,000 more babies will be killed in that time frame. Can we not "be distracted" enough to rescue those being carried away to death? Can we not love our tiniest neighbors as ourselves? Can we not demand -- in no uncertain terms -- that our magistrates step in today and put a stop to the bloody genocide of the preborn? If our state government officials were doing their jobs, we citizens would not have to rise up and do it for them. But while we continue to exhort our lawmakers to do the right thing and outlaw all child murder, what better way to counter a proposed pro-abortion amendment than to offer a proposed life-protecting amendment?

"5) With so many battles to fight, we do not want to dilute our time, effort, and energy on matters that are unlikely to succeed. When we mount a campaign, we do it to win. And we never go alone. We always move together collaboratively and build a large consensus with other state and national organizations. We also choose our battles carefully to ensure we are not doing things that will be out of reach or engaging in symbolic efforts which will not be effective. We want our supporters to invest their time and money in actions that will succeed and make a difference. Sadly, the current petition campaigns will do neither."

The stakes are indeed very high, but this is not a game. This is war. This is death being meted out all day, every day, right under our noses. And yet the Florida pro-life establishment is failing to propose language to end the killing. "Choose our battles carefully" is a reasonable slogan on the surface. But one child dies every 6.6 minutes, around the clock. Are we too few to accomplish victory? God did not seem to think that shrinking Gideon's army down to 300 dog-lapping soldiers was a "symbolic effort" which would "not be effective." Instead of pragmatism, we should encourage one another to rely upon the providence of God Almighty. We should invest our time and money in obedience to the Lord in a bold and sincere effort to save ALL preborn babies. We can’t fail if we are fully obedient to God’s Law and His call to protect the innocent.

"One final note. The people behind these petition efforts are very committed to the cause of life and are very sincere. They are good people of high moral character. But we simply disagree with their strategy at the present time. I hope this statement clarifies why we do not support these petition campaigns. We deeply appreciate your commitment to the cause of life and thank you for considering these thoughts."

Thank you for recognizing our commitment to the cause of life. However, our commitment to honoring God and carrying out His commands is deeper than all other causes. For that reason, Abolish Abortion Florida will not submit to pro-life strategizing. We will not compromise with the lives of our tiny brothers and sisters. We emphatically reject any regulation such as the iniquitous 15-week ban that sets an arbitrary age before which one can lawfully hack a little girl or boy to pieces or starve a tiny boy or girl to death.

Education, legislation, and a citizens petition to amend the Florida constitution are all essential weapons in the battle against child sacrifice. We exhort you today to stop supporting laws that regulate when, where, why and how one can murder children, and to join us as we continue to demand that our lawmakers provide equal protection and equal justice to every human being, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.