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Mason residents begin abortion ban referendum process, gathering hundreds of signatures so far

Two people who disagree about the Mason abortion ordinance discuss the issue outside of the Mason municipal center Monday night.
Jolene Almendarez
Two people who disagree about the Mason abortion ordinance discuss the issue outside of the Mason municipal center Monday night.

A controversial abortion ban in the city of Mason brought hundreds of people to public meetings for months. Some supported the ordinance, praying for the protection of unborn children. Others opposed it, calling for health care protections and privacy for women. City Council voted 4-3 to pass the ordinance in October, but it's not over yet.

"Many, many Republicans were furious about this ordinance, because it's not in City Council's jurisdiction to legislate things like this," said Mason resident Joy Bennett, who noted Democrats are not alone in objecting to the ban. "Abortion access is, many of them believe, it is a state or federal issue. It's not for cities to decide."

Council members Ashley Chance, Diana Nelson, and Josh Styrcula have dubbed themselves the commonsense Republicans and voted against the ban despite saying they personally oppose abortion. They said the city shouldn't pass ordinances the state or federal government is in charge of passing. They also supported having voters decide on the issue.

Nelson and Chance were up for reelection earlier this week and received more than 35% of the vote. Those who voted for the ordinance and were up for reelection — T.J. Honerlaw and Mike Glib — received about 14% of the vote.

Mayor Kathy Grossmann is running for state representative in 2022 and began using her support of "sanctuary cities for the unborn" as a point on her campaign literature before the issue was passed locally.

The new Mason City Council could, theoretically, opt to rescind the ordinance. But Bennett says residents aren't taking chances.

She's leading a referendum effort to repeal the abortion ban, and filed a notice with the city Oct. 29, informing officials of her intent to circulate a petition. She'll need 1,460 signatures to get it on the ballot in May, which is roughly 5% of the population in the city.

Volunteers have gathered more than 500 signatures since then and have until Nov. 25 to turn in their signatures.

Jeni Keeler is a Deerfield Township resident who collected signatures for the referendum on Election Day near polling sites. She talked with a lot of people who oppose the ban.

"The overwhelming feeling was shock. They couldn't believe, again, that this happened in their city. They didn't know that something like that could happen in their city. And some of them didn't know that it had happened at all. There are a lot of people in Mason who don't really pay attention to local politics, just like at every place, and didn't really know that this had even occurred," she said.

Though she won't be able to vote on the issue if it makes it to the ballot, she says the issue of abortion rights is personal for her.

"The reason I do this is because I had an abortion in my early 20s and I wouldn't have been able to live the life I live, have the two kids that I have now who are wonderful people, if I hadn't had an abortion in my early 20s," she said. "And there are lots of different reasons that people get abortions and really it's a personal decision that's nobody else's business and certainly isn't the business of a city council."

The next election in the city is in the spring, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision could impact abortion bans around the same time.The 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.” Those arguments will begin in December and will likely have a direct impact on Ohio abortion challenges.

For instance, a bill sponsored in the Ohio legislature this weekwould ban all abortions and allow anyone to sue a doctor performing abortions and fine them $10,000 per procedure. That's a stricter version of Ohio's own "heartbeat bill" that bans abortion after six weeks, though it never took effect and it tied up in court.

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.