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Lebanon Becomes Only City In Ohio To Ban Abortion

 Protesters rally outside Lebanon City Council Chambers to make their perspective for or against the ordinance heard.
Jolene Almendarez
Protesters rally outside Lebanon City Council Chambers to make their perspective for or against the ordinance heard.

The Lebanon City Council unanimously voted for an ordinance that bans abortion and abortion providers from setting up shop in the city. A city council member said breaking the newly passed ordinance could result in six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Over a hundred people signed up to speak during public comment on the issue and at least 100 more stayed outside to protest for or against the issue.

The ordinance bans abortion unless a woman is under life threatening duress due to her pregnancy, declares abortion-inducing drugs to be illegal contraband and makes it a crime to assist a woman seeking an abortion in the city, including with transportation, money or logistical support.

Mayor Amy Brewer said during the meeting that Lebanon residents aren't really losing rights because there are currently no abortion providers in Warren County, and people are still permitted to leave the city to get an abortion.

"When you wake up tomorrow, you are going to have the same opportunities, the same things that you had this morning. And I will not apologize for not wanting an abortion clinic in my community -- in our community," she said.  

Other council members said their faith in God and belief that life starts at conception motivated them to vote in favor of the ordinance. 

Council Member Wendy Monroe likened "unborn babies" to the elderly and people living with disabilities because she says they may rely on others to care for them.

"It's a vulnerable individual that deserves to be protected," she said. "And I think if we don't protect that life, there are many other forms of life that we also will not protect — the elderly, the disabled, and so on. So I will stand up for vulnerable people." 

The ACLU of Ohio said on social media its prepared to mount a legal challenge against the ordinance.

Council Member Resigns

Council unanimously voted to approve the ordinance because the member who would have voted against it resigned earlier in the day.

Council Member Krista Wyatt, the only council member who did not sponsor the ordinance,told news reporters in a written statement,"While I know many will be disappointed in my decision, I no longer want to be affiliated with the current council membership."

She said there is a core group of people on council who are forcing their political, personal and religious views on the entirety of Lebanon residents, despite the city charter stating elected officials in the city are supposed to be non-partisan.

She says several decisions made by council recently lead her to the decision, including one to allow handguns into council chambers and the rejection of a creation of a Human Relations Commission earlier this year.  

Lebanon is her hometown, but "as a respectful, decent human being, I can no longer allow my name to be associated with Lebanon City Council."

Personal Perspectives

Michelle Berry is a Lebanon resident who said her sister had an abortion and spent years recovering from the decision.

"My sister was very hurt by what happened," Berry said. "She was told that it was just a blob of tissue, that she would not feel any remorse, that she could go on and have the freedom to continue living. And unfortunately, that was not the case."

She said she wishes she would have been brave enough to tell her sister she had other options; that she'd offered to help her sister make a different choice.

"I realized that I too, played a role in that because I did not discourage her from that decision and give her the support she needed from a family member and a friend to choose to have that baby... and that child would be a living, breathing member of our society and precious to our family," Berry said.

A few feet away from Berry, Leslie Nahigyan wore pins on her shirt supporting the right to abortion – one with a handmaid, from Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale.

"Lebanon is unfortunately feeling quite a bit like Gilead these days," Nahigyan said, referencing the city in the dystopian novel where women have no rights under a totalitarian regime.

Nahigyan said she is a nurse and that abortion is "health care and health care is a human right."

She's concerned council is making decisions influenced by their own religious beliefs instead of representing the city's diverse constituency.

"My concern is that it will make people afraid," Nahigyan said. "Folks who need services won't feel comfortable seeking services, and instead, they'll seek other alternatives that are much more dangerous than legal, safe abortion."

A few feet away on the corner of the street, Judi Phelps carried a sign urging people to defy Roe v. Wade, with a handgun strapped to her leg.

"I'm very much in support of the ordinance," Phelps said. "I think that every city and municipality should adopt the same."

Phelps has three children, two of which she said experts told her would have birth defects, but didn't. She said she worries if she'd have listened to doctors, she might have aborted her children.

"I see it as either you support murder or you don't," Phelps said. "You can see that I am open-carrying my firearm. I am a firearms instructor and a gun enthusiast. And I get more flak from the fact that I'm exercising my Second Amendment right … But these women who are often coerced, they're often poor, they're often uneducated, and they are corrupt, coerced and manipulated into murdering their children and have lifelong impact because of it."

A group of young women arrived at City Hall together, carrying signs that said, "Never Again" and "Abortion: against it? Have a vasectomy."

Emma Ruby's sign said, "If You're Against Abortion Don't Have One."

"I'm here because I think abortion is your choice," Ruby said. "I don't think it affects anybody else. If you're not ready, you're not ready."

Ruby is a Lebanon resident who said council members are hypocritical because they spoke out against recent public health issues, like masking and other COVID-19 guidelines.

"You're not affecting other people, people won't even know," Ruby said. "I mean, it's all about your choice. And I don't think people should take that right away from you."

Outside Influence?

During the council meeting, several people pointed to an outside influencer from Texas who allegedly led the charge for change in the city. But officials said that's not true.

Mark Dickson, of Longview, Texas, represents an organization called Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn.

He flew to Ohio from Texas to attend the meeting, and city officials said they reached out to him for expertise about creating an abortion ban in the city. A city official said no city money was spent bringing in outside consultants on the issue.

Dickson said Waskom, Texas, was the first city in the country to ban abortion back in 2019. Lebanon is the first city in Ohio to do so and the 29th in the country.

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