Rubio and Demings are battling over abortion. What do South Florida voters think?

Neighbors backing different candidates in the Florida race for U.S. Senate between Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democrat Val Demings. (Rachel Costa/SFMN)

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade earlier this year, abortion has emerged as a central issue in the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic challenger Rep. Val Demings. 

Demings, a Democrat and the former Orlando police chief, has attacked Rubio for supporting the criminalization of abortion “with no exceptions” for rape or incest, while Rubio, a Republican seeking a third term, has hit Demings for backing abortion “up until the moment of birth.” 

Voters ahead of the November election have been bombarded with TV ads with the candidates’ claims on the issue.

“I think it’s a big topic – it’s up there with people’s rights,” said Juan Murillo, 33, an independent. “It is definitely a big part of the voting decision.”

Murillo, who lives in Miami and is a filmmaker, added that he plans to do some research on the candidate’s positions on abortion before deciding who he will vote for on Nov. 8. 

“I would vote for whoever is less extreme,” he said. “Whoever can make exceptions for special cases or health reasons…I am probably more towards the restriction side but with the exceptions.”

Rubio recently co-sponsored a Senate bill banning abortion nationally after 15 weeks but with some exceptions.

“It’s not a top priority,” said Sam Maier, 50, who is not registered in a political party and is still undecided about whom he will vote for. “I think the exceptions are important, but the priority is the economy, foreign affairs, everything else. (Abortion) would be a little bit lower on the list.”

Samuel Fournel, an Mixed Martial Arts boxing coach, says that when it comes to abortion he believes “your body, your choice.” (Rachel Costa/SFMN)

Samuel Fournel, 31, who is registered as a Republican but considers himself “in the middle,” said his views on abortion were influenced by the women who raised him.

“I think it’s important to understand that perspective is relative to the person,” Fournel said. “I’m in support of what a person feels they need to do. Being raised in an all-female household, I was taught to let a person think for themselves, believe in themselves.”

He added, “I just think, basically, your body, your choice. It’s that simple.”

Fournel said he would need to gather more information about Rubio and Demings before deciding who to support. 

According to the  Real Clear Politics average of polls, Rubio holds a single-digit lead over his Democratic rival in the home stretch of the race.

Sabrina Javellana, a City Commissioner in Hallandale Beach, said abortion is one of the main reasons she’s going to the polls in November. (Rachel Costa/SFMN)

Sabrina Javellana, 24, a Democrat and city commissioner in Hallandale Beach, said that after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe, women are being treated like second-class citizens.

“For me, it’s an issue of freedom and anyone who could get pregnant,” said Javellana, who plans to vote for Demings.

“Everyone has different religious beliefs and personal beliefs,” she continued, “but everyone should have the decision to make very personal life-changing and serious health decisions about their own bodies. And that is whether they want to carry on with the pregnancy or not…for any reason at all. That is probably one of the main reasons I will be voting this November.”

Rafael Listig and Nelson Morales are FIU students. (Rachel Costa/SFMN)

Rafael Listig, 22, and Nelson Morales, 20, students at FIU, are both registered Republicans and plan to vote for Rubio in November.

“I believe that Marco Rubio is doing something right, and I will follow him for it,” said Listig. “I think that is important for us…to try and help the babies who cannot speak for themselves. Of course, I understand that we are always willing to help people who have gone through rape or incest and that is not really the target. (Rubio) is not trying to vilify abortion. It’s just that there are kids who deserve a chance in life.”

“I agree with Rafael,” said Morales. “Although I do support the idea that kids should have an opportunity at life, I think there are some exceptions…like rape, incest, and maybe even other issues. But I do think there should be some limits for abortion.”

For her part, Madison Brooke, 21, a Republican, said the issue of legal abortion is something that weighs heavily on her decision about whom to vote for. Brooke said she is leaning in favor of Demings. 

“That is something that would switch my vote,” Brooke said. “If there were problems that would interfere or complicate having that child, I think that is not a good decision to have the child. But if you are somebody who wants to keep the child in spite of possible struggles, I think you should have the child. Like I said, I am very pro-choice.”

Another voter, Katherine D., 26, an independent who declined to give her last name, said Rubio is the best choice regardless of his favoring restrictions on abortion. 

“I don’t think abortion would affect my vote,” said Katherine, an accountant. “I would still vote for Rubio. I just feel like he aligns more with what I think is the right political party.”

For more stories on the election, check out the SFMN voter guide.

Rachel Costa is a student at Florida International University majoring in Digital Journalism and Communications. She was born and raised in Brazil, and enjoys reading and writing. In the future, she hopes to work in the publishing industry.