Cristobal Reyes | Orlando Sentinel
ORLANDO, Fla. — In a speech in Orlando on Saturday, U.S. Senate hopeful Val Demings touted her pro-choice stance and attacked Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s position on abortion as “radical.”
Rubio, who’s seeking a third term, has long supported bans on abortion with no exceptions, most recently saying a failed Senate bill to codify Roe v. Wade would legalize ”the killing of unborn children right up to the day of delivery.” The 1973 Supreme Court ruling is on the cusp of being overturned, according to a draft opinion obtained by Politico.
His campaign described his likely opponent in November as “a radical who supports abortion up until the moment of birth,” in what is likely to become a wedge issue in the race, Florida Politics reported.
Demings called the claim “foolishness,” voicing her support for abortions “up until the point of viability or when it threatens the health of the mother.” She also pointed to Rubio’s past support for a 2001 “scarlet letter” law signed and later deemed unconstitutional, which required unwed mothers in Florida who wished to put their children up for adoption to publish details about their sex lives in newspapers.
“Desperate people say desperate things,” Demings said in response. “… I know they are searching for something to draw the attention away from his extreme view about the constitutional right that people have in this country.”
She added, “The nerve of him to say there should be no restrictions, even including incest, rape and abuse — now I think that’s extreme.”
Speaking at the She’s the Change conference hosted at the Rosen Plaza Hotel by pro-choice group Ruth’s List, Demings also called Roe v. Wade “established law.” The Women’s Health Protection Act, the Senate bill that would have codified the ruling and invalidated state abortion bans, failed to overcome the Republican filibuster, with a 51-49 vote against moving the legislation forward.
“When I decided to raise my family, I didn’t ask my congressman, I didn’t ask my governor and I’m dang sure I didn’t ask my senator,” Demings said. “Women have a right to choose their own destiny. We’re not going back, we’re not shutting up, we’re not sitting down, we are going to fight and fight and fight some more.”
The leaked draft opinion penned by Justice Samuel Alito sparked outrage throughout the U.S., with mass protests taking place around the country while doctors and abortion providers speak out as others, including religious conservatives, praise the possible decision.
It also comes as Republican state legislatures pass restrictive abortion bans in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s official ruling, expected to come down later this year. Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, except if the fetus is found to have a “fatal fetal abnormality.”
The law, which many fear could be expanded next year after the Supreme Court’s ruling, does not include exceptions for rape or incest. A statewide poll by the University of North Florida found nearly 60% of Floridians are opposed to the newly-signed ban.
“We are here today to protect life,” DeSantis said at a signing ceremony in Kissimmee. “We are here today to defend those who can’t defend themselves.”
Florida Democrats have scrambled to mobilize their base ahead of November’s elections, where Rubio’s Senate seat and the governorship are at stake, as the party nationally has embraced abortion as a key issue in this year’s midterms. A Pew Research Center poll in March found 61% of voters support legal abortion in all or most circumstances.
Ruth’s List, the group that hosted Saturday’s conference, recently released a list of pro-choice Democratic women candidates, including State Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando and attorney general candidate and former Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
“We need the steadfast and bold leadership of pro-choice women in office to fight for our families and our rights, now more than ever,” Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the audience.
But Democrats have also been criticized as pro-life Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia broke party ranks against the bill to codify Roe v. Wade and as top leaders lend their support to pro-life candidates.
In Texas, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to pull her endorsement of Rep. Henry Cuellar’s reelection campaign against a progressive challenger, despite him being the only anti-abortion House Democrat.
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Demings didn’t comment on the House party leaders’ support for Cuellar, preferring to keep the discussion about her race with Rubio.
“I don’t know what’s going on in Texas,” she said. “But here in Florida, the overwhelming majority of men and women believe in a woman’s right to choose.”
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