ACLU raises billboard in Warren County reminding people abortion is legal in Ohio

Lebanon has been a sanctuary city for the unborn for the past several weeks but the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is using an electronic billboard to remind people abortion remains legal throughout Ohio.

The electronic billboard located on Ohio 48 at Mason-Morrow-Milgrove Road is just south of the Interstate 71 interchange in South Lebanon, where there is some interest by its village council to follow Lebanon’s lead.

“We hope this billboard will serve as a reminder to residents of Lebanon and South Lebanon, and people across the state, that abortion remains legal – despite what special interest groups and some local officials would want you to believe. Ohio clinics remain open and services are available to individuals in need of abortion and other reproductive healthcare,” said Freda Levenson, ACLU of Ohio legal director. “The ordinance is blatantly unconstitutional and large portions of it are pure rhetoric. We continue to review our options and litigation is not off the table.”

The latest action by the ACLU of Ohio follows the May 25 vote by Lebanon City Council that declares the city a “sanctuary for the unborn,” posturing to ban abortion within the city limits.

The ordinance makes it illegal to provide an abortion, aid an abortion, provide money or transportation for an abortion, and provide instructions for an abortion within the city limits of Lebanon. A similar ordinance is currently being considered in the Village of South Lebanon. There are no abortion clinics in Lebanon or South Lebanon and none are planned.

Jerry Haddix, South Lebanon’s village manager, said village council adopted a resolution of support, but not an actual ordinance. He said that will be revisited once the village becomes a city as expected later this year after the 2020 Census is finalized. Haddix said the resolution passed at a July 1 meeting stating village council strongly supports the City of Lebanon’s ordinance making Lebanon a sanctuary city for the unborn.

Mason Assistant City Manager Jennifer Heft, said, “No legislation was on the agenda or introduced at last night’s council meeting. The topic came up during the visitors portion of the agenda, at which time we had several visitors that spoke in support and in opposition of legislation. At this time no legislation has been introduced.”

In May, the ACLU of Ohio said it would file legal action against Lebanon if that ordinance was adopted. As of Tuesday, no legal action has been taken against the city.

“We are unable to share litigation plans or strategy at the moment regarding Lebanon’s ordinance,” said Sarah Khan-Williamson of the ACLU of Ohio.

Lebanon Councilman Adam Matthews said, “It’s been on the books for seven weeks and we’ve had no legal action against it because we did the work. We wrote it in a way that fits with the abortion jurisprudence and we expect it to withstand any legal challenge if there ever is one.”

The ACLU, ACLU of Ohio, Preterm-Cleveland, and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit in May 2019 challenging Senate Bill 23, a law banning abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. In July 2019, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order to block the law from taking effect as litigation proceeds. The ACLU of Ohio and others await a permanent decision from a judge.

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