St. Petersburg votes down a $50,000 allocation to the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund
Two Tampa-area Republican representatives told council members that voting in favor of the funding would break state law, and they'd oppose further state appropriations from the state if the allocation passed.
The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday voted against providing $50,000 to the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund for helping residents seek abortions outside of the state.
Council member Richie Floyd proposed the funding, saying he was careful to work with the city’s legal team to make sure the allocation aligned with state law, which says the city’s public dollars can’t go toward anything “affiliated with an abortion provider.”
“That does not describe Tampa Bay abortion fund at all, they simply have places that they refer people to,” Floyd said. “So the legality hurdle was overcome.”
The council heard an hour of public comment from residents on both sides of the issue, with some saying this would provide additional aid for a needed service, while others said it was wrong to spend money on something that was opposed by so many people.
"I do not as the chair of this council appreciate that letter whatsoever, especially from two legislators who do not represent this city. Feels a little bit like blackmail."City Council Chair Brandi Gabbard
“Most people in St. Petersburg don't agree with their money specifically going towards investigating, prosecuting and potentially imprisoning doctors and people seeking health care,” Floyd said following public comment. “That's what's going to happen.”
But some council members were concerned that they would face severe punishment and a legal battle from the state if they allowed the funding.
"If we're not preempted with the current state law, we're going to be preempted with [new state law], because the language is even tighter,” said Council Member Ed Montanari, referring to the recently passed 6-week abortion ban bill.
Two Tampa-area Republican Florida House representatives — Mike Beltran and Berny Jacques — also sent a letter to the city council in late March, saying that voting in favor of the funding would break state law, and that they'd oppose further state appropriations from the state to the city if the allocation passed.
Council Chair Brandi Gabbard said the letter sent to the council was highly inappropriate.
"I do not as the chair of this council appreciate that letter whatsoever, especially from two legislators who do not represent this city,” Gabbard said. “Feels a little bit like blackmail."
But the council ultimately voted against the funding, with some citing concerns of an expensive legal battle, and the potential of state officials trying to remove council members from office.
“The conversations were very clear to me that there will be punitive issues that will come down if we approve $50,000,” Gabbard said. “It is going to happen. Disney's living through punitive leadership. Andrew Warren's living through punitive leadership. We saw Nikki Fried and Lauren Book get arrested early this week. And personally, I've got a lot of work to do for this city.”
“We talk about abortion as a private matter, but we're being asked to support using public funds for a private matter.”City Council member John Muhammad
Other council members, including John Muhammad, said the funding would put the city in an awkward position of infiltrating intimate affairs he believes should be handled by families and their doctors.
“We talk about abortion as a private matter, but we're being asked to support using public funds for a private matter,” Muhammad said. “And I also would be willing to support funding to health care providers that offer services to pregnant women, and pregnant persons, as I stated, and those seeking reproductive health care. But as it is, in its current form … I don't think that I can support this at this time.”
The council did vote in favor of a resolution supporting the rights for St. Petersburg residents to make reproductive health decisions themselves, and requesting that local police don't spend money investigating people who choose to get abortions, as the state has recently directed.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch issued a statement following the council’s decision:
“In St. Petersburg, the State of Florida and nationwide, there are passionate beliefs and advocates on both sides of this important debate. It is our duty as Americans to protect the process of democracy and ensure that all voices have an opportunity to be heard, as was just carried out in our Council Chambers. I'm thankful to our City Council's dedication to inclusive progress and partnership as we work to move our city forward,” part of the statement read.