Santa Rosa officials look to prohibit abortion clinics through Land Development Code

·5 min read

The Santa Rosa County Commission did not adopt a proposed "trigger ban" ordinance prohibiting an abortion clinic from operating in the county at its Thursday meeting.

Instead, the commission opted to move forward on exploring a way to attach the prohibition to the county's Land Development Code.

There are currently no abortion clinics in Santa Rosa County.

The commission tasked county staff with working through that process and bringing a Land Development Code amendment back to the commission at a later date.

The LDC had an extensive rewrite finalized in July 2021.

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Santa Rosa County residents on Tuesday listen as the Santa Rosa County Commission discusses a "trigger ban" ordinance that would prohibit abortion clinics from operating in the county.
Santa Rosa County residents on Tuesday listen as the Santa Rosa County Commission discusses a "trigger ban" ordinance that would prohibit abortion clinics from operating in the county.

Tempers began to flare between among commissioners and the public during discussions related to the proposed ordinance Thursday morning.

Before the public was even heard on the subject, Commission Chairman Bob Cole made his feelings about the ordinance known.

"At this point, I'm not going to support this ordinance," Cole said. "… We're not here for all that, because we have a state government that this county runs under. We can't do things the governor doesn't allow us to do."

Previous opinions from Florida attorneys general have determined the state's authority preempts counties from adopting ordinances regulating or banning abortion clinics.

Santa Rosa County residents on Tuesday listen as the Santa Rosa County Commission discusses a "trigger ban" ordinance that would prohibit abortion clinics from operating in the county.
Santa Rosa County residents on Tuesday listen as the Santa Rosa County Commission discusses a "trigger ban" ordinance that would prohibit abortion clinics from operating in the county.

About 50 residents turned out to the meeting Thursday. People both in support and opposition to the proposed ordinance voiced their concerns.

"It's so interesting because they (the commissioners) talk about government overreach when it comes to gun control — when it comes to these conservative issues," Northwest Florida resident Nat Shepherd told the News Journal before the hearing. "When it comes to a more liberal issue, such as abortion, they're like, 'Oh, the government should absolutely control it because it supports our values and beliefs.' Abortion is currently legal in the state of Florida."

County resident DeAnna Railing voiced her support for the ordinance in front of the commission.

"You don't have to sit here and vote whether you're pro-life or this or that. Vote and say we do not want a shoddy, dangerous, quote-unquote medical facility in this county. We do not want an abortion facility in this county. That is not the tourism we want to have,"Railing said.

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The Santa Rosa County Commission first discussed a "trigger ordinance" that would prohibit abortion procedures in the county back in June, following a document leak that foreshadowed the U.S. Supreme Court's eventual decision to overturn the 1973 case Roe v. Wade, which federally protected the right to an abortion.

The move by the county has largely been spearheaded by Commissioner James Calkins.

"Babies are being murdered all around our country. And you have a due diligence to do everything you can to save babies," Calkins said to the other commissioners Thursday morning.

In a case where the county would have instituted the ordinance, two more things would need to have happened for it to take effect.

The Florida Supreme Court would need to rule that the privacy right written into the Florida Constitution — which states every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person's private life — does not forestall the regulation of abortion, and the state Legislature would need to authorize local regulation of abortion.

In the county's draft of the ordinance, it left a specific scenario that would have allowed for the procedure.

"A person shall not purposely perform or attempt to perform an abortion on a pregnant woman except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency," the draft ordinance reads.

District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright weighed in on the ordinance from a different perspective.

"I'll take it one step further because I'm clearly not going to support this ordinance. But in my mind, as someone who truly does care about children, and about life, I think if we're going to do something like this, then we need to start providing some additional county funding for day care for some of the kids that are out there," Wright said. "… There are children that are hungry. There are children that are struggling. We need early learning education. There's a lot of things we can do to truly help. If we want to start talking about doing some of that, we can start talking about putting county funding toward those things. Because I think that's important, because that is the next generation."

In 2020, Santa Rosa County officially became Florida's first "pro-life sanctuary" after voters approved a referendum that symbolically declared the county as anti-abortion.

Currently, the only abortion clinic between New Orleans and Tallahassee is American Family Planning in Pensacola, which was shuttered by the Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration in May. ACHA's administrative complaint says the clinic violated Florida law when three women nearly died during abortion procedures and had to be rushed to the hospital, and the clinic failed to report the incidents to the state within 10 days.

The agency is seeking to permanently revoke the clinic's license to operate and to levy $343,000 in fines. The clinic's leadership has announced plans to appeal.

Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration releases annual data on induced terminations of pregnancies. In 2021, there were over 79,000 abortions in Florida. Of those, 237 of the women were from Santa Rosa County.

Florida's newest abortion law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April, prohibits the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy. A Leon County judge issued an order in July stopping the 15-week ban and was immediately appealed by the state, making the 15-week threshold state law as the issue works its way through court.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Santa Rosa County abortion trigger ban fails, officials seek alternative