After threats from Tallahassee, St. Pete City Council votes against funding increased abortion access

The motion failed 2-6, with Council Chair Brandi Gabbard rescinding early support.

click to enlarge After threats from Tallahassee, St. Pete City Council votes against funding increased abortion access
Photo by Dave Decker
Today, St. Pete City Council voted against providing $50,000 in funding to the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund (TBAF) for practical services. The motion was made by council member Richie Floyd and seconded by council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders—who both cast the only yes votes to approve the funding.

“Abortions are not going to stop when they pass this ban,” Floyd said. “They’re not going to, science has shown it over and over again, that when abortion is illegal it happens at the same rates it does when it’s legal.”

According to the World Health Organization, unsafe abortion is the leading but preventable cause of most maternal deaths.

The council did vote 6-2 to approve a reproductive rights resolution, with councilmember Ed Montanari and Gina Driscoll opposing.

The reproductive rights resolution was written with guidance from St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway. The resolution asks local law enforcement to not violate state or federal laws, but does ask to de-prioritize investigations into possible reproductive matters under the right to privacy.

Councilman Floyd introduced both items to the Health, Energy, Resiliency, and Sustainability (HERS) committee back in December. In February, the HERS committee approved both items to go to the full council for a vote. Even then, Welch’s administration had expressed concerns over the possible funding. That’s despite chief assistant city attorney Jeannine Williams stating multiple times that her interpretation of current law is favorable to the funding. Council chair Brandi Gabbard had been in support of the proposal back in February. That changed after she went to Tallahassee last week.

“This was all anyone wanted to talk about and representatives from both parties were very clear that punitive issues will come down,” Gabbard said. “Disney is living through punitive leadership, [ousted Hillsborough State Attorney] Andrew Warren is living through punitive leadership. We saw Nikki Fried and Lauren Book get arrested early this week.”

Gabbard voted against the measure today.

Today’s vote comes after Republican representatives Berny Jacques of Seminole and Mike Beltran of Manatee wrote a letter to Mayor Ken Welch and HERS committee chair Driscoll. Beltran and Jacques, neither of whom represent St. Petersburg, threatened to defund the city. Driscoll, who had previously greenlit the proposal, said today that she no longer thinks the risk is worth it.

Welch pushed back on Twitter, writing, “I, as Mayor, the St. Petersburg City Council, and the St. Pete residents we serve, embrace our responsibilities to our great community, including our duty to review and debate all issues of importance to our City without regard to threats and attempts to intimidate.”

“This allocation has the potential to create many more problems than it will solve,” Driscoll said before voting against the proposal she advocated for less than six weeks ago.

Florida’s six-week abortion ban has language that is seemingly aimed at the exact kind of funding proposed by St. Pete. The legislation already passed in the senate, and awaits approval in the GOP-led house still before it heads to Governor Ron DeSantis. The law would also ban state dollars via city governments used to assist those seeking out-of-state abortions.

“I will not compromise my values because of threats,” Floyd said. “I will not be blackmailed into not doing what I think is right. I will not cede an inch of ground to authoritarians seeking to silence dissent and erode our rights.”