Federal suit challenges abortion ban in Ohio city

By: - May 11, 2022 11:19 am

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The National Association of Social Workers and a pro-abortion rights organization in Ohio are going to federal court to attempt to get a city-level abortion ban thrown out.

The ACLU of Ohio, along with D.C.-based firm Democracy Forward, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Western Division on Wednesday morning, naming the city of Lebanon and its mayor, city manager, city attorney, and police chief as parties.

“This case 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 adequate notice of the specific conduct it forbids,” attorneys for the ACLU wrote in the lawsuit.

Lebanon’s city leaders passed an ordinance in May of last year that deems it illegal “for any person to procure or perform and abortion of any type at any stage of pregnancy in the city of Lebanon, Ohio.”

Those who “knowingly aid or abet” an abortion could also face criminal penalties, including first-degree misdemeanor charges, under the ordinance.

The NASW and Women Have Options-Ohio say the law violates due process, a right afforded until the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which is why the lawsuit was filed in federal court.

The two organizations “reasonably fear criminal prosecution for themselves or their members, employees or volunteers under the Lebanon Ban,” court documents stated.

The NASW has about 4,700 licensed social workers who are members in Ohio, with 1,500 in Warren County.

Though a U.S. Supreme Court decision is upcoming that could limit or eliminate the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, parties in the lawsuit say the rights at odds with the Lebanon ordinance transcend a supreme court decision.

“The lawsuit makes it clear that, even in the face of a potentially imminent overthrow of the legal right to an abortion, such a law violates other constitutional protections including due process and free speech,” the ACLU said in a statement on the lawsuit.

The abortion ban in Lebanon “deprives the public – including both pregnant persons and those who seek to provide them with assistance – of fair notice as to what the law proscribes,” the lawsuit states.

Not only does the lawsuit claim Lebanon violated constitutional amendments, but also the Home Rule provision of Ohio law – which gives municipalities the right to self-govern – with a part of the ordinance that “purports to enforce existing but unenforceable state criminal abortion bans by making them into municipal-level misdemeanor offenses.”

Lebanon was one of four cities to introduce city-level abortion bans in the state. Mason passed a similar ban in October 2021, but it was repealed after a some city officials who’d championed the measure weren’t re-elected. Two others were brought up in Celina and London, but both were rejected.

The Ohio Capital Journal reached out to Lebanon mayor Mark Messer, city manager Scott Brunka, and city attorney Mark Yurick when the lawsuit was announced, but as of Wednesday evening had received no response.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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