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Lebanon proclaims 'Pro-Life Day' amid protests, lawsuit challenging its abortion ban

Abortion-rights supporters demonstrate at Lebanon City Hall Tuesday as the city acknowledge a year since officials passed an abortion ban.
Jolene Almendarez
Abortion-rights supporters demonstrate at Lebanon City Hall Tuesday as the city acknowledges a year since officials passed an abortion ban.

Lebanon Mayor Mark Messer proclaimed May 25 Pro-Life Day in the city as about half of those crowded into City Hall cheered. The other half remained silent in protest of the city's ban on legal abortion access.

It's been a year since Lebanon became the first, and now only, city to ban abortion and abortion providers from setting up shop in the city. Violations could result in six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The ordinance is being challenged in court.

"I'm honored to present this proclamation to you," Mayor Messer said Tuesday. "Whereas every child has the right to life and that life was created at the moment of conception with a unique human nature, genetic identity and limitless potential … I do hereby proclaim May 25, 2022 and every year, as Pro Life Day."

But those in opposition have not given up hope the ban will end.

Emily Morgan says she lives near Lebanon, and spoke during public comment about being raped when she was 15 years old.

"A few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. As if bearing the trauma of rape wasn't enough, I had to decide if I was going to bring a child of hate into this world or abort it. I remember thinking about what both of those scenarios looked like. My future was at stake. My choice was clear. I chose myself," she said.

Morgan recalls being taunted by protesters when she went to an abortion provider, but says she has never regretted her choice.

She asked city council members to reconsider their support of the ban for the sake of women who may share her story and future.

Lebanon resident Anke Pietsch took her daughter and a friend to the rally outside City Hall before the meeting.

"It's very important for any woman or girl to have the choice to have an abortion. It's their decision," she said. "I would like to point out that if this country would be more active about having sex ed in schools, on having free accessible birth control, universal health care, maternity or paternity leave, and also livable wages, then the number of abortions would be going way down."

Pietsch was at the Lebanon City Hall last year to protest the ban, and this year she says she's part of the National Association of Social Workers, one of the organizations that filed a lawsuit against the city.

ACLU Attorney Elena Thompson, who was at the protest, says the city is being sued because the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague, prohibits the first amendment right of social workers who counsel people who may need abortions, and conflicts with Ohio state law on the issue of aiding and abetting.

She says attorneys for the city say they are considering rewriting the ordinance, but did not provide further details.

City of Lebanon Attorney Mark Yurick previously told WVXU he can't comment on pending litigation when asked about the lawsuit.

Those opposing abortion rights support city officials, saying the ban has made the city a better place to live, knowing abortions won't ever be provided there. One woman says she's deliberately spent more time and money in the city because she supports the ban.

Lebanon resident Mark Bledsoe engaged with abortion-rights supporters before the meeting, booing and arguing face-to-face with them.

"I don't want kids being killed. We've killed tens of millions of kids, and they still have such a bloodlust," he said. "That ten million kids ain't enough. How many must die?"

Another man, who declined to give his name, pointed his finger in people's faces and shouted, "We speak life in this community and we voted life. So, you guys can get out of here!"

At least four police officers intervened as tensions rose between protesters and the shouting became mutual. Police made no arrests and didn't detain anyone.

Officers said abortion-rights supporters had a permit to chant using a bullhorn and rally on the street, so no-one could interrupt them or stop them from protesting.

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.