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Ohio city relaxes abortion law while abortion rights advocates consider their next moves

Protestors at Ohio Statehouse June 29, 2021
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau

A lawsuit against the city of Lebanon over its abortion ban has been dropped after the two parties reached an agreement.

Freda Levenson, ACLU of Ohio's legal director, filed the lawsuit over Lebanon’s abortion law last year, but her group and Lebanon’s attorneys agreed in court that the suit could be dismissed because the city changed the language in the law.

“The amended ban no longer criminalizes people like advocates and social workers who are providing assistance to Lebanon residents who are seeking lawful abortion care outside of Lebanon,” Levenson said.

Lebanon still bans abortion clinics from operating within its limits but there isn’t one there, and Levenson said there were never plans to put one there.

Levenson said her group and other abortion advocates will try to put a proposed constitutional issue before voters in the future to allow them to codify the right to abortion in the state constitution.

She said the coalition, Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, has hired Mission Control Inc. to be the general consultant for the campaign.

Last year, Mission Control worked on abortion ballot issues that passed in Kansas and Kentucky. She said the coalition’s campaign has completed the initial language drafting for the proposed constitutional amendment.

She added that they are now doing qualitative and quantitative research as well as message testing.

“Our plan is to file language with the Ohio Attorney General’s office before the end of February,” Levenson said.

Another group, Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, made up of doctors and medical professionals, said it is trying to get a different abortion proposal before voters in the November 2023 election.

Levenson said her group is not ruling out — but is also not committing — to putting something on the 2023.

“We are working expeditiously but at the same time, thoroughly, because we know if we skip steps or rush the process, that would be reckless because the stakes are too high,” Levenson said.

Levenson said her group hopes to be able to submit language for a ballot initiative to start the process sometime in February.

Mike Gonidakis, Ohio Right to Life president, said his heart tells him abortion rights advocates will end up putting the issue on the November 2024 ballot for several reasons.

“One there will be higher turnout because it’s a presidential election year. Senator Sherrod Brown is going to be up for reelection in the general election,” Gonidakis said.

Gonidakis said Brown, a Democrat, will be able to draw a lot of money to Ohio which would benefit abortion rights supporters as well.

Plus, he said it would be a heavy lift for any abortion rights group to get something on the November 2023 ballot because the process for doing that takes time.

“It usually takes about 30 days or a couple of weeks for the attorney general to weigh-in (on language) positively or negatively. They might have to go back to the drawing board. Then it has to go to the ballot board and that has to be scheduled several weeks out," Gonidakis said.

He added, "So they can’t collect one signature until they get approval from the ballot board so we could be into May and according to the constitution, this has to all be wrapped up, I think, 90 days before the general election."

That timeline is important for some Republican lawmakers at the Ohio Statehouse who want to ban abortion in Ohio.

There’s a proposal being considered that would make it harder to pass constitutional amendments. The majority of majority Republicans in the state legislature want to pass that bill and get it on the May ballot.

Opponents have said Republicans are pushing for the resolution to make it harder for abortion rights and other citizen groups to put constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Ohio's current abortion law allows abortions up to 22 weeks of gestation. A bill signed into law in 2019 limited abortions as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy, at the point fetal electrical cardiac activity could be detected — before some women even know they are pregnant.

That law was in place during much of the summer but a Hamilton County Court judge put it on hold this fall, saying its language is too vague.

Ohio lawmakers have talked about clarifying that language but have yet to present a bill that would do that.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.
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