Senator’s staff locked door to faith leaders, abortion rights advocates bearing petition

Advocates: ‘We knocked on the door and no one answered’

By: - November 10, 2021 4:04 pm

Advocates try to visit the office of State Sen. Danny Burgess on November 9, 2021. Credit: Annie Filkowski.

Holding signs bearing messages about women’s reproductive rights, and shouting into bullhorns, a group of at least 15 faith leaders and advocates for abortion rights attempted to hand-deliver a letter and petition to state Sen. Danny Burgess, but his office staff locked the door.

Burgess, chair of the Judiciary Committee in the state Senate, was not in the office at the time, according to his staff.  A Republican, he represents parts of Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk counties in the Legislature.

A staffer confirmed in a phone conversation Wednesday with the Phoenix that they locked the door because only two people were in the office at the time, saying the rest of the staff including Burgess were “at a lunch meeting.”

“Of course, there were only two people in our office so we locked the door,” the staffer said. “We got their petition; they came at an inopportune time. The only thing we wish is that they didn’t shout and use their bullhorns.”

Burgess’ staffer spoke to the Phoenix but did not use his or her name, saying “staff” would suffice for the news story. The staffer also declined to be recorded for the phone call.

Burgess has described himself as pro-life and a devout Roman Catholic and said he looks forward to both chambers coming together to work on a bill related to abortions in the coming legislative session, according to a report from The Ledger.

Leaders from churches across the state, part of the Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health and Justice, had written a letter obtained by the Florida Phoenix, saying “we affirm the sanctity of life by endorsing laws and policies that provide access to comprehensive reproductive medicine, including access to safe and legal abortion care.”

The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates was also involved, with a petition signed by residents who oppose legislation to ban abortions. The petition is addressed to the Florida Legislature, urging members to “not pass unconstitutional abortion bans that cause nothing but grief and pain for your constituents.”

Advocates attempted to visit Burgess at his office in Pasco County to express their opposition to legislation that would restrict access to abortions. Some Republican members have expressed interest in passing measures similar to Texas’ law that bans abortions after about six weeks and relies on private citizens to enforce it by suing individuals helping women secure abortion services.

So far, state Rep. Webster Barnaby, a Republican representing part of Volusia County, has filed HB 167 on Sept. 22, but no companion bill has appeared in the Florida Senate.

On Tuesday, as volunteers were approaching Burgess’ office in Pasco County, they noticed staff members were locking the door, said Annie Filkowski, policy director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

“We gathered in the park across from the office, and a few volunteers noticed his staff locked his office before we got there,” she said in a phone conversation with the Phoenix on Wednesday. “The door was locked, we couldn’t get in, we knocked on the door and no one answered.”

In a video sent to the Phoenix from the event Tuesday, representatives are seen outside of Burgess’ office, which appears to be a storefront, holding signs that read “bans off our bodies” and chanting “abortion rights are here to stay.”

The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates had attempted to deliver the petition but settled for leaving it on his doorstep, Filkowski said.

“I don’t know if they knew we were coming,” Filkowski said. “The lights were on and everything, and the folks who did look inside said they saw staff in there.”

Meanwhile, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls has tapped state Rep. Erin Grall, a Republican representing parts of Indian River and St. Lucie counties, to take the lead on anti-abortion legislation during the 2022 session, as reported by Florida Politics. Grall, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, told the Phoenix last week that she had no details to share at the time about abortion legislation.

Although the group hasn’t planned to visit Grall’s office, Filkowski said, “we are in regular communication with members of the Legislature and will continue to speak out in opposition to any attempt to ban abortion in Florida.”

The groups targeted Burgess because of recent comments he made about supporting abortion bills in the 2022 legislative session, Filkowski said.

“Our delegation wanted to communicate to Sen. Burgess that his recent comments about faith and abortion don’t represent many people of faith in Florida who support access to abortion,” Filkowski said.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.