Sep 16, 2021 - Politics

Manatee County is Florida's new abortion battleground

Illustration of two crossed gavels over a map of Manatee County, Fla.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

There are no abortion clinics in Manatee County, but Republican commissioners there are nonetheless seeking to make the county "a 'Safe Haven' for developing children who are inside their mother’s womb" by asking for Attorney General Ashley Moody’s help in a letter.

  • As women’s rights activists protested outside, commissioners voted Tuesday to request "legal guidance regarding how to best navigate a successful 'Safe Haven' ordinance."

Why it matters: If Tampa Bay is a bellwether (see Hooters, 'Stand Your Ground,' the Cuban sandwich), the 4-3 vote by a local elected body to engage in this effort is a sign that pro-life politicians are starting to feel empowered.

The intrigue: It’s unclear what commissioners mean by "Safe Haven ordinance." Florida’s "Safe Haven law," enacted in 2001, allows new parents to anonymously leave unharmed newborns at certain safe locations without fear of prosecution.

Between the lines: The wording of the letter — "We do not wish to compete with any other legislative bodies pursuing the goal of protecting life in Florida" — suggests the commissioners believe Florida lawmakers will introduce Texas-esque restrictive abortion laws, which Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) has confirmed.

  • Texas’ law allows municipalities to adopt their own abortion regulations if they are more restrictive than state law, and Manatee County wants clarification on whether they can do the same.
  • "It is our desire to be an encouragement to others in their efforts so that they are more effective than they otherwise might be," the board’s letter states.

Yes, but: The letter did not directly ask for Moody’s help enacting a local abortion ban, which the board had previously talked about, per the Bradenton Herald.

The other side: About 50 protesters gathered and one was arrested after trying to enter the county building with a sign.

  • "Abortion is constitutionally protected at both the federal and the state level," Becs Gutherz, 37, told the Herald. "I think this is all a big show and a waste of taxpayer dollars that could be used elsewhere."

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