Jacksonville City Council will enter the fierce battle over abortion access when it decides on council member Reggie Gaffney's proposal for covering up to $4,000 of travel costs for city employees obtaining abortions in other states if such service is not available within 100 miles of their homes.
Gaffney, who is running for a state Senate seat, will ask fellow council members to fast-track a vote on the bill because of the "uncertainty in federal and state law as to reproductive rights at this time," the legislation says.
The U.S. Supreme Court could announce a decision this year on overturning a constitutional right to an abortion, putting the matter into the hands of state legislatures on whether to ban abortions in a state or enact other restrictions.
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in April that bans legally permitted abortions after 15 weeks. The tighter window in Florida will make North Carolina the only state in the South that permits abortions after 15 weeks.
The new Florida law goes into effect July 1. The only exceptions allowed after 15 weeks are if the mother is at risk of death, "irreversible physical impairment" or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality.
State Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, who is running against Gaffney in the Democratic primary in August, has been an outspoken backer of abortion rights and joined a May 14 rally in front of the Duval County Courthouse. She said Gaffney is a latecomer to showing support.
She said she is "extremely concerned about the recent law that was passed that bans abortion after 15 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest" and she opposed it on the House floor.
"I have been fighting my entire career to protect women's reproductive rights," she said. “I’m glad the councilman has finally realized what’s at stake after years of being silent on the issue and actively helping elect Republicans who support these unconstitutional abortion bans."
Gaffney's bill says that starting July 1, each city employee will be able to receive reimbursement for up to $4,000 in travel expenses annually for "any medical treatment related to reproductive rights" if that treatment is not available within 100 miles of the employee's home and virtual care is not possible.
Some companies have announced they will cover travel expenses for U.S. employees seeking abortions. Starbucks this week said it will offer that benefit to employees who do not have access within 100 miles of their homes.
Other companies telling employees they will cover such travel expenses include Salesforce, Amazon, Microsoft and Tesla.
Gaffney's bill says the $4,000 in reimbursements would be for travel expenses to obtain medication, procedures or operations that can include the employee's "right to plan a family, terminate a pregnancy, obtain contraceptives, and gain access to reproductive health services."
City Council member Rory Diamond said he doubts the legislation will pass.
"I don't think there will be any support for this bill on City Council," he said. "I'm voting 'no' because I'm pro-life and will never accept taxpayer funding for anything related to abortion."
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Roe v Wade: Jacksonville leaders to vote on covering abortion travel