LEBANON, Ohio — One of the nation’s longest-running debates resurfaced in Lebanon Tuesday night during a council meeting. After hearing from more than 100 local voters, the city council passed a ban on abortion just before 11:00 p.m.
“We’re very clear: It does not step on any First Amendment rights,” said Adam Mathews, a member of Lebanon City Council, hours before the vote was cast. “There’s no penalty, nothing at all, for the mother or anyone who’s going to go through this crisis.”
There are no abortion providers in Warren County. However, the bill would outlaw clinics from coming to Lebanon. Doctors who perform the procedure could be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail.
"Unless supports for women and families including born children are addressed, there will be no sanctuary here," said Denise Lacy, who spoke at the meeting. "Lebanon will be known as a forced birth zone."
"Lead the way, lead the charge," said Mark Lee Dickson, director of Right to Live East Texas. "Outlaw abortion within the city limits, sending a very strong message about this enforceable ordinance."
Others questioned whether the Lebanon City Council even had the authority to pass a bill limiting rights already protected federally and whether city council's time would be better spent on city issues rather than engaging in a national platform.
“The ordinance in Lebanon is just another example of the extreme and unconstitutional lengths anti-abortion activists will go to prevent patients from seeking the care they need and deserve," said Kersha Deibel, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio. "Abortion services are already extremely difficult to access for people in Ohio, but these efforts are part of an aggressive, nationwide anti-abortion agenda to do one thing — ban abortion outright. It’s reprehensible. We will do everything we can to continue providing safe, legal abortion to the people in Ohio who need it — no matter what.”
All city council members listed themselves in support of the ordinance except Krista Wyatt. She said initially that she did not plan to show up to vote before submitting a letter of resignation late in the afternoon, just hours before the vote.
"I no longer want to be affiliated with the current Council membership," Wyatt wrote.
In her resignation letter, the former firefighter wrote that she had witnessed a dramatic transformation in Council chambers over the prior 16 months.
She described the proposed abortion ban — a measure placed on the budget in a city with no abortion providers, written by a Texas-based advocacy group called Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn — as the latest in a series of incidents demonstrating what she described as her fellow councilmembers’ indifference to their community.
“There is a core group of people who have hijacked the council to force their personal, political and religious views on the entire citizenship of Lebanon,” she wrote. “...I am heartbroken not to fulfill my term and I know many people will be disappointed with this. But as a respectable, decent human being, I can no longer allow my name to be associated with the Lebanon City Council.”
The first strike for Wyatt was an ordinance to allow council members and visitors to carry concealed firearms at meetings.
Councilmember Wendy Monroe, the gun shop and shooting range owner who proposed it, said at the time that the ordinance was passed, “we just think that it’s a right.”
The ordinance passed without Wyatt’s vote in March 2020 and, in March 2021 and it later spawned a suit from Lebanon residents who discovered it conflicted with Ohio state law. The state disallows concealed carry in all courthouses and buildings containing courtrooms. Lebanon City Council meets inside a courtroom.
Lebanon is reportedly the 29th city in the U.S. to make such a move. The Texas-based group says it has helped 26 Texas cities and two Nebraska cities draft custom-tailored ordinances that outlaw abortion.
Lee Dickson, the founder of Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn, characterized the ordinance as an offensive volley against the Biden administration, which he called “a radical pro-abortion administration."
Marty Pinales, a Cincinnati defense attorney and legal expert, said that just because the ordinance passed, that doesn’t actually make it legal. It’s “clearly unconstitutional,” he said.
Like the concealed-carry ordinance, it will attract challenges.
“It is not legal today,” Pinales said. “We don't know what the Supreme Court is going to do with Roe v. Wade, but as we look today, Lebanon is still part of the United States of America, and they have to follow the laws and the rules of the Supreme Court and the United States Constitution. So as we sit here now, I think they are — and you can't take politics out of it.
“I think they're doing this for politics,” he added.
This story was originally published by Scripps station WCPO in Cincinnati.