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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Richard Luscombe in Miami

‘This is a violent attack against women’: Florida Senate candidate seeks to channel abortion outrage

a red-haired woman in a light blue shirt
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell: ‘This is a top-of-mind issue … but we’ll see in November how voters decide what are going to be their priorities. I think they’re going to make things very clear.’ Photograph: Wilfredo Lee/AP

A round table on abortion rights, hosted by Florida’s Democratic Senate candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, has only just begun, and already she finds herself comforting a woman in tears with a very personal story to tell.

The woman is from Colombia, and speaks softly in Spanish as she tells the intimate gathering of the Miami-Dade Hispanic Democratic Caucus about the distressing decision her daughter had to make to terminate a pregnancy after learning the fetus was not developing.

“In Colombia, which tends to be a very conservative country, she was glad supportive medical professionals were there for her daughter in the decision, and grateful she had access to good-quality healthcare for it,” said Mucarsel-Powell.

“It was traumatic and painful, but at least they could rely on that healthcare. I’m just seeing outrage, from men and women, that here, families are faced with having to live in a state where you will not be able to get that care, because most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks.”

She was referring to the ruling by Florida’s supreme court earlier this month that will allow a six-week abortion ban, with few exceptions for rape or incest, to take effect on 1 May. It will end the state’s position as a bulwark of access to the procedure in the south-eastern US.

Yet it has also acted as rocket fuel to the campaign of Mucarsel-Powell, an Ecuador-born former congresswoman and mother of two daughters. She seized on the issue to launch a statewide Freedom Tour championing the protection of abortion rights and exposing the “unapologetic and proud” support for the ban on the part of her opponent in November, the incumbent Republican senator Rick Scott.

The Hispanic Caucus event in Coral Gables was only the third of the tour, but Mucarsel-Powell said it was already clear that abortion is a “top-of-mind” issue galvanizing voters, as it is in other Republican-controlled states that have curtailed reproductive rights since the US supreme court ended almost 50 years of federal protections with its 2022 reversal of Roe v Wade.

On Monday, her campaign announced it had raised over $3.5m in the first quarter of the year, with more than 5,300 new donors since the supreme court ruling. And Democrats across Florida are also sensing wind in their sails as opposition to the ban, as well as support for a court-approved ballot initiative that could enshrine access to the procedure in the state’s constitution, hardens.

“This is a violent attack against women, because it is fundamental for us to make that decision on our own, with our healthcare provider, with our families, with our faith,” Mucarsel-Powell told the Guardian in an interview following the round table.

“This is about protecting privacy, protecting healthcare for women, making sure that there’s no government interference, especially from extreme politicians like Rick Scott. I can tell you what people are thinking about this, and that it’s affecting women living in the state of Florida that were sent home when they thought they were having a miscarriage, and they weren’t able to get that healthcare.

“And then they got very ill, and almost died because they didn’t receive that healthcare. So this is a top-of-mind issue, like so many other issues, but we’ll see in November how voters decide what are going to be their priorities. I think they’re going to make things very clear.”

Also clear is Mucarsel-Powell’s disdain for Scott, who she believes is vulnerable in November as he defends the seat he narrowly won from the incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in 2018 by only 10,000 votes from 8.2m cast.

“If he goes back to the Senate, he will push for a national abortion ban,” she said. “His true agenda includes signing away women’s reproductive rights and trying to control their bodies.

“And he knows he will have to answer for his support of Florida’s ban in November. The choice is going to be very clear for voters, they know who I am, they know what I stand for, and who and what Rick Scott isn’t.

An Emerson College poll this week showed that 42% of Florida voters planned to vote for the constitutional amendment that would overturn the Florida ban, far short of the 60% it would need to pass.

Yet Mucarsel-Powell sees hope in the 32% who say they are still unsure. “A lot of people don’t know that this amendment is on the ballot, so the movement that has been created and has built this infrastructure on the ground is ready to make sure that everyone knows this is an issue,” she said.

“The work is happening, it will continue to happen, and I think in November, the majority of Floridians will know that they have a choice. I believe they’re going to come out and vote for freedom.”

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