2 organizations file federal lawsuit against Lebanon on abortion ordinance

Two organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Lebanon, its mayor and other administrators over the city’s “Sanctuary City for the Unborn” ordinance outlawing abortion services there.

The National Association of Social Workers and Women Have Options-Ohio filed the lawsuit Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati that names the city, Mayor Mark Messer, City Manager Scott Brunka and Police Chief Jeffrey Mitchell in their official capacities. The lawsuit was filed by attorneys from the ACLU of Ohio Foundation in Columbus and the Democracy Forward Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The suit alleges the city’s abortion ban, which was adopted in May 2021, is:

  • Unconstitutional and is a violation of due process and should be voided for vagueness. The organizations said the potentially sweeping ban also authorizes and encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. It also claims the ban fails to provide adequate definition or clarification of key terms and provisions as well as failing to provide people of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to understand what conduct it prohibits.
  • Unconstitutional due to a prohibiting, among other things, abortion-related speech, as well as any speech that conveys information or emotional support to a person seeking an abortion. The ban fails strict scrutiny because it is not narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest, the lawsuit says.
  • In conflict with state law.

“The organizations also raised concerns whether a municipal government may enact a vague, sweeping ordinance that can be interpreted to criminalize virtually all activity even tangentially connected to abortion without providing fair notice of the specific conduct it forbids,” according to the complaint.

A message was left seeking comment from the city of Lebanon.

The ban deprives the public— including both pregnant people and those who seek to provide them with assistance — of fair notice as to what the law proscribes and infringes upon other constitutional protections, according to the complaint.

The ban exposes NASW’s members, social workers across the State of Ohio, and WHO/O’s Ohio-based staff and volunteers to the risk of criminal prosecution without providing fair notice and in violation of their constitutional rights, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit is asking the court to declare the ordinance is unconstitutional.

It also seeks court costs and attorney’s fees and other relief the court deems appropriate.

On May 25, 2021, Lebanon became the first city in Ohio to adopt the Sanctuary City ordinance. It was adopted as an emergency measure, which meant that it took effect immediately.

Although Mason City Council passed a ban on Oct. 25, 2021, it repealed that ordinance two months later. Similar bans were introduced but rejected in Celina and London.

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