JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney held a news conference Monday on proposed legislation that would create a reimbursement option for city employees who travel for “medical treatments related to reproductive rights.”
At the news conference on the steps of City Hall, Gaffney, who is also running for a state Senate seat, said he does not believe in abortion, but that is not stopping him from introducing the bill.
“I love Jesus like any one person, but I just believe that a woman has the right to choose what she wants to do with her body, and I don’t think it’s a man’s job to do that,” said Gaffney.
News4JAX first reported about this bill on Friday, and at that time, even though he introduced the legislation, Gaffney didn’t want to talk about it on camera. On Monday, he did but didn’t want to take questions, but I pressed him on some of the issues.
Standing behind Gaffney at Monday’s news conference were those in support, like Christina Kittle of Florida Rising.
“It is a way to fight back from the streets to the legislative bodies,” Kittle said. “We have thousands of people in the streets for this, so the demand is there, and then we have an elected official who is supposed to represent us, be a representative and try to speak out and do the best that he could with a bill that I think we all know will not get the votes that it needs.”
Watching from afar was Margie Watkins who’s had abortions in the past and is now against them.
“He wants to pass this bill, so if it’s the woman’s right, why is he standing with passing the bill for them for our tax money?” Watkins said. “No, I’m not agreeing that our tax money goes to the workers. If he wants to pay for the abortion out of his pocket, good for him.”
That is one of the questions that I asked Gaffney. He said that is what his nonprofit will do, reimburse women, and that he urges other businesses in Jacksonville to do the same.
Gaffney’s bill comes on the heels of a leaked initial majority opinion from the Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade that has abortion rights advocates scrambling.
If the draft from the Supreme Court holds, it essentially sends the issue of abortion rights back to the states -- like it was before 1973, when the Roe decision established federally that a woman had the right to have an abortion.
If states are in the driver’s seat for abortion laws, Florida and Georgia both have Republican-dominated legislatures that have been efforting tight abortion restrictions. Florida just passed a 15-week abortion ban, and Georgia’s fetal heartbeat law has been essentially halted by a federal court.
That means a local woman who wanted to have an abortion might have to travel out of state, beyond neighboring Georgia, to legally have one.
Gaffney’s bill appears to be preparing for that possibility by establishing that Jacksonville city employees who opt for such treatment could be reimbursed for their travel expenses.
If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1 and allow up to $4,000 in travel expenses annually for a city employee for any medical treatments related to reproductive rights if that treatment is not available within 100 miles of the employee’s home and virtual care is not possible.
According to the bill, those treatments could include medication, procedures or operations -- including terminating a pregnancy, using contraceptives, family planning or gaining access to reproductive health services.
The bill will be introduced at the Jacksonville City Council meeting on Tuesday and is being filed as an emergency bill, which would mean it would need only one cycle before it would go into effect, but it’s not expected to pass.
On Friday afternoon, Gaffney released a statement saying, “As a man of faith, using this would not be my personal preference. However, as a legislator I represent all people and I will fight for their freedom and their right to have options, and every woman deserves this option.”
Republican members of the City Council, like City Councilman Rory Diamond, say the bill will never pass. Since Friday, I have been reaching out to Republican City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, who is also running for mayor, to get her perspective, but I have not heard back. As for the mayor’s office, this is one piece of legislation that it is not commenting on at this time.