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Mason, Ohio, joins national heated conversation on abortion access

Chants for human rights rang out amid Catholic prayers of Hail Mary Monday night as more than 100 people gathered at Mason City Hall to speak about a proposed abortion ban. But a late night vote showed there's no resolution on the hot button issue, yet.

The nine-page proposed ordinance bans abortion unless it's in response to a "life-threatening physical condition." It also encourages prosecution of those "who aid or abet abortions by providing financial assistance, transportation to an abortion clinic, or other forms of logistical support" in Mason. That does not include helping people get an abortion in other municipalities. It also prohibits abortion providers from setting up in the city.

There are currently no abortion providers in Mason.

City officials tried to pass an abortion ban on "emergency," meaning it would go into effect immediately and residents could not take the issue to a referendum. In other words, residents wouldn't be able to challenge the decision by calling for the issue to be put on a ballot.

But the motion to approve the ordinance as an "emergency" didn't pass. That means, legally, the issue had to be pushed for consideration at a later date — Oct. 25. City council voted to limit public comment during that meeting to 90 minutes. They also discussed moving public comment until after they vote on the ordinance, but they'll make that decision during the meeting.

Mason resident Keri Arinsmier says the ordinance is nothing more than a political move by Mayor Kathy Grossmann who is running for state representative in 2022.

"There's no abortion provider here, and it's just ridiculous. This is all about a bullet point on campaign literature, and Kathy Grossman, literally, already has sanctuary cities as a bullet point on her literature for 2022 state House run," Arinsmier said.

She says her family moved to Mason about five years ago to be in a quality school district.

"I never really thought I would be in a place where we'd have to go to City Hall and protest for abortion rights because City Hall should be taking care of things like making sure the roads are working, recycling is getting picked up," she said. "We shouldn't be here fighting for our human rights and our dignity at City Hall. It's just unbelievable."

More than two dozen abortion rights opponents say they didn't go to City Hall for the sake of politics.

Mark Harrington is president and founder of Created Equal, an anti-abortion rights organization based in Columbus. He and about half of the anti-abortion rights protesters drove in for the city council meeting in a large van.

They held large photos of aborted fetuses across the street from abortion rights advocates.

He said they did so "because abortion offends my sense of justice. I think it's wrong to kill unborn babies. They don't have a voice. They don't have a vote, so we need to stand for them."

He says abortion is not health care. In his opinion, it's murder.

"I just don't think a nation can survive who kills his children. This has got to put an end. We're not gonna have the blessing of God if we continue to kill our babies," he said.

The ordinance was also supported by Mark Dickson, of Longview, Texas, who represents an organization called Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn.

He flew from Texas to Ohio in May to support a similar ordinance in Lebanon.

Dickson consults with cities about how to institute abortion bans and said he discussed the issue with Mason officials, providing them with a version of legislation passed elsewhere. He says 39 cities through Ohio, Texas, and Nebraska have passed abortion bans.

Multiple city council members declined requests for an interview last week for more information about the ordinance.

"Cities passing ordinances is a very common thing. Here in Ohio — Cincinnati, Athens, Columbus, Dayton, Kent, Lakewood — they all passed ordinances banning gay conversion therapy. That was their choice," Dickson said, saying abortion bans are along the same lines.

But Bethe Goldenfield, chairperson of the Warren County Democratic Party, says local abortion bans are part of a bigger conversation. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case that challenges Roe v. Wade — a 2018 Mississippi law that prohibits all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy “except in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality.”

"It's just an empty ordinance in a way to almost grandstand to say that, 'OK, we're going to be part of this movement that's happening all over the country to get Roe v. Wade overturned, that's really the bottom line," Goldenfield said. "It's all these incremental steps to get Roe v. Wade overturned and make women afraid to even try to access the full range of reproductive services that are legal in the United States."

If the court upholds the Mississippi law, other abortion bans, like the "heartbeat bills" passed in Ohio and Texas could be put into effect. Ohio's law is currently not being enforced due to a court ruling. The Texas law is being enforced.

Arinsmier says, "It seems like there's chipping away at women's rights from the top down. So this is just, it feels like sort of setting the stage for what's going to happen at the Supreme Court. It feels like they're coming at us from both ends."

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the Texas "heartbeat bill" was no longer being enforced due to a court ruling deeming it unconstitutional. That ruling was struck by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Friday and it is being enforced again.

The document below contains some typos.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.