St. Pete approves possible $50k for increased abortion access

A reproductive rights resolution and Tampa Bay Abortion Fund allocation now head to a full council vote

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click to enlarge St. Pete approves possible $50k for increased abortion access
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Thursday morning in St. Petersburg, two motions concerning the protection of reproductive rights and allocation of funds for abortion services passed in committee unanimously.

In December, Council member Richie Floyd introduced both items to the Health, Energy, Resilience, and Sustainability or HERS committee. “Reproductive care is under attack right now,” Floyd said Thursday.

But the unanimous vote comes with some caveats after January’s meeting on the topic. If St. Pete City Council passes the motions without amendments, one motion sends $50,000 from the city’s general fund to the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund (TBAF) for one year of, “practical services.”

What does that mean? In short, money for the St. Pete general fund would not be for abortions, but for yet-to-be-determined expenses like travel.

A 2016 law, signed by then-Governor Rick Scott banned state and local funds from going to any institution providing abortions. There’s also Florida Statute 390.011 additionally prohibiting public funds for abortion care affiliates. But Jeannine Williams, St. Pete’s City Chief Assistant Attorney said TBAF doesn’t directly or indirectly manage an abortion clinic and isn’t in violation of that statute.

“You control what they use the money for,” Williams told the committee.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle blocked a portion of the same 2016 law that prohibited public funds for things like STD testing, family planning, and breast and cervical screenings. Hinkle ruled it unconstitutional under the Roe decision. This week, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody asked Hinkle to vacate his injunction, citing last summer’s Dobbs decision. It isn’t clear what kind of impact that challenge could have but the injunction is still in place for now.
“We pay the clinic for the client, but we aren’t legally affiliated to any clinics,” Kris Lawler with the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund told the committee. “In the same way, we pay for Lyft and hotels, and we aren’t affiliated with them.”

Council member Gina Driscoll expressed concern over funds going directly to abortion procedures, so Floyd amended his motion to limit the scope. “We’re helping but we’re being clear with what part of the mission we’re helping with,” Driscoll said.

Lawler said that in 2022, TBAF spent $220,000 providing abortions and $60,000 in other practical services like flights, rideshares, and gas.

“Ninety percent of that was after the ban,” Lawler told the committee. Asked in December to provide information on how many clients are from St. Petersburg, Lawler stated TBAF stopped collecting zip codes from callers for safety reasons.

“We stopped in June 2020,” Lawler said, adding that TBAF now only collects zipcodes on a voluntary basis. “We started in December for the two counties (Hillsborough and Pinellas) voluntarily.”

In the aftermath of last summer’s Dobbs decision and Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, Lawler says TBAF spent at least $37,688 on those identifying as St. Pete residents. And that is just in the second half of 2022.
Rob Gerdes, an administrator with Mayor Ken Welch’s office, told the committee that the administration has concerns.

“We are concerned about precedent,” Gerdes said. “The administration supports the right to abortion…but I can’t commit today that we will execute this agreement.”

If it passes, the one motion approves funding for one year, with a report at the end of that time from TBAF. And funds not used would have to be returned.

Driscoll also asked for TBAF to bring back information on how much of its 2022 practical services budget went to those identifying as St. Petersburg residents.

“We expect that number to get worse with the coming legal landscape,” Lawler said.

Floyd’s amended resolution to protect reproductive healthcare also passed unanimously with notable changes. The broadened language preserves a right to privacy concerning all healthcare decisions, and the resolution asks the city not to use public money to criminalize those decisions. And the St. Petersburg Police Department was consulted for the last line of the resolution, “Policy above shall not impede legal obligations of the St. Petersburg Police Department.”

Gerdes says the administration spoke with SPPD chief Anthony Holloway about the resolution. When Floyd first introduced the new business item in December, Gerdes told the committee that the administration needed further discussion on the resolution with Holloway and city attorneys. That could be a result of the overturning of Roe, and recent efforts to criminalize those seeking abortion care like the push to make an abortion punishable by death in states like Texas and South Carolina.

“Holloway informed us that the police department is going to enforce the law, and if there’s a complaint, they're going to investigate those claims,” Gerdes said.

Both items will go before the full city council for a final vote. If passed, Mayor Welch could still veto one or both of those motions.
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