A day after Lebanon marked the first year of its controversial “Sanctuary City for the Unborn” ordinance that banned abortions, city officials agreed to a stipulation of non-enforcement of a section of the ordinance.
The stipulation also signaled that the city will amend its law that criminalizes those who assist people in accessing abortion care, according to the ACLU of Ohio.
The Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinance makes it unlawful to provide or aid an abortion within city limits, which includes providing money, transportation or instructions for an abortion. Anyone convicted of the misdemeanor offense faces up to to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Lebanon has had no arrests, and the city has no abortion services providers.
Lebanon was the first and is the only city in Ohio to enact a Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinance.
On May 11, the National Association of Social Workers and Women Have Options – Ohio, represented by the ACLU of Ohio and Democracy Forward, filed a federal complaint challenging the ordinance in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.
Late Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio released a statement about the stipulated agreement that said the the city will amend its ordinance and will not enforce a portion of the ordinance against those challenging the ban.
The case, National Association of Social Workers et al. v. City of Lebanon, Ohio et al., was the first challenge to an abortion ban filed since a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked suggesting that the Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Although Roe and Casey remain valid law, this legal challenge does not depend on that precedent, and argues that the Lebanon ban violates other federal and state constitutional principles.
Represented by the ACLU of Ohio and Democracy Forward, the National Association of Social Workers and Women Have Options - Ohio have challenged the Lebanon ban as a violation of constitutionally protected rights to due process and freedom of speech, as well as the Ohio constitution. The ban, which is part of a movement to bar abortion in cities and counties throughout the nation, is one of nearly 50 in the country and the first to be adopted in Ohio.
“When we sued the city of Lebanon in early May to stop their unlawful abortion ban, they had a choice: defend the ban in court or not. Today, we heard them loud and clear: they have no defense,” the ACLU said in a news release.
“For now, the members of NASW and the abortion care advocates at WHO/O – and others who work with them – can continue to do their important work without fear of being criminalized by the ban. Still, no one should have to worry about running afoul of this vague and potentially sweeping law.
“Our legal challenge shows how antidemocratic abortion bans like this extend beyond the rights prescribed by Roe and Casey. In this case, the ban violates the due process and free speech rights of Lebanon’s residents, social workers, abortion care advocates, and many others across the state.”
The organizations said they will remain vigilant and monitor how Lebanon attempts to address the ways in which its extreme abortion ban violates the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. They also said their lawsuit will continue until people’s rights are fully protected.
Lebanon Mayor Mark Messer said, “This mutual agreement allows the city 60 days to respond appropriately to the parties concerns. Section 5A will remain in effect, as such all abortions in the city of Lebanon remain banned. Portions of Section 5B in our Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinance will be stayed as we work to clarify some of the language.
Messer said that “news that we are not defending this legislation are greatly overstated. We will continue to work in the best interest of each of our citizens and will vigorously defend each individuals right to life.”
Mark Lee Dickson, executive director of Right to Life of East Texas and founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn movement, called the news release from Democracy Forward and NASW “fake news” concerning the stipulation agreement.
“Despite their claims to the contrary, the City of Lebanon, Ohio is not “stopping the enforcement of their ordinance outlawing abortion” nor is the City “declining to defend the abortion ban in federal court,” Dickson said. “While a ‘stipulation agreement’ was signed, the fact that some groups are making this out to be a victory is laughable. The abortion ban in Lebanon remains in effect, is being enforced, and will be vigorously defended. The city council will be strengthening and expanding the ordinance in the coming weeks.
“Every court challenge that has been brought against the sanctuary cities for the unborn ordinances has failed and we are confident that this challenge will fail as well,” he said.
Lori Viars, Warren County Right to Life vice president, said pro-abortion activists have misread subsection 5B, but regardless, subsection 5A is still in effect and abortion is still banned in Lebanon.
“It puzzles me that some groups are celebrating the stipulation agreement as a victory when abortion is still banned in the City of Lebanon,” Viars said. “Their claim of victory is extremely premature and we expect Lebanon will win this lawsuit. Fifty cities have passed similar versions of this ordinance and every challenge by the ACLU has failed.”
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