Manatee commissioner celebrates ‘huge win’ in pushing to be first county to ban abortion

Kathy Douglas, 73, of St. Petersburg and Natashia Milburn, 30, of Gulfport, hold signs on the corner of 3rd Street and Central Avenue in St. Petersburg on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. The women gathered to honor the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Daniel Figueroa IV/WMNF

A commissioner in Manatee County Tuesday called voting to fund two pro-life pregnancy centers a “huge win” in his push to make Manatee the first county in Florida to ban abortions. The vote came as dozens of pro-choice activists rallied outside the meeting to oppose the measure.


The vote authorized $100,000 of county money be diverted to support programs for pregnant women in need at Care Net Pregnancy Center and Solve Maternity Homes. Both are pro-life organizations that attempt to have expectant mothers considering abortion continue their pregnancy.

The move was one-half of a plan commissioner James Satcher put forth at a June meeting. He praised the vote.

“I would just like to thank the board for passing the motion today to put some money where our priorities are,” he said. “And that’s toward helping Manatee County become a sanctuary city. A safe haven for mothers and for babies. This is a huge win.”

The seven-member board approved the funds in a 5-1 vote. Commissioner Misty Servia voted against the measure and commissioner Carol Whitmore was not in the room at the time.

Sanctuary for the unborn

Satcher’s June proposal called for funding a program that would incentivize expectant mothers to continue a pregnancy. He also asked for support in a complete abortion ban in the county, despite Manatee not having any abortion facilities.

Florida law currently allows abortions in most cases. A county-level ban would have murky legal standing because the County’s ordinance would be at odds with current state law.

During the June meeting, Satcher said the commission could follow in the steps of Lubbock, Texas. Lubbock recently voted to become a “Sanctuary City for the Unborn” by outlawing abortions. Lawmakers in the city faced similar preemption issues. They were able to work with Texas state legislators to allow the law.

A losing battle

Commissioner Servia is a self-described fiscally conservative Republican. She said a similar would only be a costly legal battle the County would most likely lose.

“Pursue it at the state level. I think that’s the appropriate place,” she said. “It’s not the appropriate place in local government. And I’m not gonna vote to spend precious resources chasing something that’s a losing battle.”

Women’s choice

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy also said he wouldn’t vote for an abortion ban. He said men have no place in regulating women’s bodies. He went a step further to say men shouldn’t even vote on the issue.

“As men, I don’t think we should have say-so in that. Because again we’re dealing with women’s rights. And for a long time, women’s rights have been violated strategically and systematically,” he said. “I would caution to say if you really want to get it done, the individuals that it’s going to impact should be leading the conversation.”

Dozens of pro-choice advocates spoke at the meeting and during a rally outside. Tracy Pratt, chair of the Manatee County Democrats, spoke during public comment. She said looking into an abortion ban is outside the purview of the commission and opposed by the party.

She also added a personal message to commissioners.

“You were not elected to legislate my vagina, my uterus, my fallopian tubes or my ovaries. You also were not elected to step into the relationship between me and my daughter and our reproductive decisions,” Pratt said. “I assure you that we will do everything we can to make sure this county commission does not waste any more taxpayer dollars on this folly.”

Commissioners did not vote on banning abortion during Tuesday’s meeting.

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