St. Petersburg City Council committee hits pause on abortion funding, resolution

Council members said they would like to see a broader statement supporting women’s health care.
Abortion rights marchers hold signs during a rally in June in St. Petersburg.
Abortion rights marchers hold signs during a rally in June in St. Petersburg. [ JEFF WOO | Times ]
Published Dec. 15, 2022|Updated Dec. 15, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — A move to affirm a right to privacy in women’s health care decisions, particularly abortion care, and provide financial support for a local abortion fund stalled in a City Council committee on Thursday.

Council member Richie Floyd presented the proposals and suggested giving $25,000 to the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund at the City Council’s health, energy and resilience and sustainability committee. While the majority of council members present were in favor, they agreed to table the discussion for a future committee meeting to add broader language about women’s health care.

Floyd said he borrowed language from a resolution passed in August by the city of Tampa respecting the privacy of people seeking abortions. He said he cleared the resolution language with the city’s legal department.

“The state has been testy about this, but we were clear in this that we’re just stating our intent, stating our values,” he said.

The elephant in the room was the risk of inviting backlash from Gov. Ron DeSantis or the state Legislature, which has increasingly moved to prohibit local governments from taking action on certain issues. The governor ousted Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren from office after Warren promised not to enforce laws limiting abortion or the ability of children to seek certain gender dysphoria treatments.

“I couldn’t sit here and tell you that there’s absolutely no risk in light of what has happened in the state of Florida, with people being removed from office for statements that they’ve made,” said Chief Assistant City Attorney Jeannine Williams. “So I can’t tell you that there’s zero risk altogether, but I can say that legally it appears that this does not fall into the category of the type of behavior that would be a risk legislatively.”

City administrator Rob Gerdes said Mayor Ken Welch’s administration is in support of safe and legal abortions, but was concerned about setting an economic precedent.

Council member Ed Montanari, who is the sole registered Republican on the City Council, asked several questions about precedent and the legality of appropriating taxpayer money for abortion access.

“To take taxpayer funds and fund something that (anti-abortion supporters) are just adamantly opposed to, in my opinion, is playing with fire,” he said. “I don’t see any path to doing something like this.”

Williams said that the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund does not own or operate an abortion clinic and legally, state law does not prohibit a donation to the organization.

“Sounds like a loophole,” Montanari said.

Council members Gina Driscoll and Brandi Gabbard said they were in support but would like to see the resolution broadened to support women’s health care to include other types of reproductive care.

Driscoll said she wanted to go beyond “a political statement” and provide assistance to women who need it.

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“You got two women sitting right here telling you like this is a dire need in our community,” said Gabbard, who said her life was saved due to preventative care she received from Planned Parenthood when she was younger.

Floyd said he was disappointed that his proposals were tabled, but said he looked forward to continued discussion.

“I just want it not to be lost, though, that this was put forward because reproductive health care access in this country is under attack right now,” Floyd said. “And this is more of a political statement to say that the city of St. Petersburg right now will not stand for that.”