People on both sides of abortion issue speak in Lebanon on one-year anniversary of ‘Sanctuary City’

More than 50 abortion-rights activists attended a rally outside of the Lebanon City Building Tuesday before the city council declared Wednesday as “Pro-Life Day,” marking the first anniversary of the city’s Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinance.

During the rally, which lasted about 45 minutes, various people spoke in favor of abortion as others chanted and held up signs.

The controversial ordinance has divided the Warren County city for the past year.

Lebanon police maintained a watchful eye over the rally, but was forced to step in when an anti-abortion resident began shouting down the rally participants.

Mark Bledsoe of Lebanon, started shouting out, “if you need to kill more kids, kill me. How many more must die?”

Police pulled Bledsoe away from the rally group, who had been issued a city permit to demonstrate. Officers explained to him that he could not disrupt their rally.

Bledsoe said he supported the city’s abortion ban ordinance and wanted to speak out during the rally.

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.

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.

Kim Harris of Lebanon was holding up a sign as the speakers made their comments. She said the Lebanon abortion ban “was unnecessary legislation when it was passed.”

“With Roe vs. Wade possibly being overturned, it’s important that we have our say as women,” she said.

Her daughter, Harley, added, “If it’s not happening to your body, it’s not your say.”

The abortion-rights rally was organized by Planned Parenthood of Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Women Have Options and the Warren County Democratic Party.

Alecia Lipton, one of the rally organizers, said the ordinance that passed a year ago “was wrong then and it’s wrong now.”

Various candidates and elected leaders from across the state sent statements or video messages to the rally. Among those sending messages were Democratic Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, the Democratic nominee for Ohio governor; Liz Walters, Ohio Democratic Party Chair; and various Democratic candidates seeking various Statehouse seats in the upcoming primary.

Elena Thompson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, reminded the crowd that abortion was still legal in Ohio and in the U.S., and that her organization will continue to fight to protect that right.

Thompson said the Lebanon ordinance is unconstitutional and that they challenging the ordinance in federal court for free speech and due process violations, which won’t be affected if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses Roe vs. Wade.

Supporters for and against abortion filled the Lebanon council chamber with each side taking half the room and media reporters and cameras stood along the walls. Anti-abortion supporters brought dozens of baby diapers to the council meeting and stacked them up in from of the dais to mark the occasion. The diaper drive continued on Wednesday.

There were 26 people who spoke for and against the city’s abortion ban, with 12 people identifying themselves as being Lebanon residents. The citizen comment period was civil, respectful and orderly with no outbursts.

Also in the audience was Mark Lee Dickson of Longview, Texas and director of Right to Life of East Texas.

Dickson has also founded the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn movement which has about 50 cities, mostly in Texas, which have enacted abortion bans. Lebanon was the first and only city in Ohio with this designation. Mason was briefly a sanctuary city for the unborn, but that was repealed when a new council was elected last November.

Arriving during the rally, Dickson, told the Dayton Daily News that he came to Lebanon on Tuesday “to support Lebanon council on this historic occasion.”

He said there have been no abortion deaths since the Texas Heartbeat Act has been in effect nor have there been any litigation against sanctuary cities in Texas.

“Back alley abortions are not happening,” he said. “Women and children have never been safer.”

He told council, “I’m fully confident that the Lebanon ordinance will survive any legal challenge. Lebanon will gain victory over the ACLU. You have all of America behind you.”

Lauren Simpson of Waynesville, a mother of three daughters, scolded council for passing the ordinance last year.

“Shame on you. You’re not representing your constituents,” she said. “This should have been put to a vote but you kept in under the radar.”

Another resident, Anita Heck, said she was tired of the controversy and that the community division is starting to wear on people.

“I think we can do better,” she said. “I’m tired of the behavior seen in public and online.”

Heck believes the Sanctuary City ordinance was rushed and now the city is facing an expensive legal battle.

“Talk, listen, and listen again, she said. “I hope we can overcome this divide.”

After Mayor Mark Messer issued his proclamation making Wednesday “Pro-Life Day” in Lebanon, he presented copies of the document to former mayor Amy Brewer and former councilman Joe Shafer recognizing their leadership last year. Messer and Vice Mayor Adam Matthews are the only remaining council members who voted last year to enact the abortion ban.

Brewer said she made a lot of tough decisions during her 32 years on Lebanon council.

“We represented Lebanon, not Cincinnati,” she said. “I think Cincinnati leaders should stay in their own lane.”

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