MASON, Ohio — A proposal for an ordinance banning abortion in the city of Mason has not yet made its way to a city council agenda, but the concern over its possible passage still lingers.
City Council candidate and small business owner Joy Bennett said it’s hard to ignore the magnitude of local events like the Western & Southern Open when thinking about what could be lost in Mason because of a controversial abortion ban.
“Honestly, the athletes, the sponsors, they very well could say, 'I'm not going there if this is the policy, if this is the law in the City of Mason. I won't compete there, I won't sponsor an event there.' We could lose this," she said.
Nikki Foster, a Mason resident and former congressional candidate, said it’s a recent trend seen in celebrities who have a choice on where they want to do business, play or perform.
“Will Smith just moved one of his films, ‘Emancipation,’ from Georgia because of the voter rights that are being taken away in Georgia,” Foster said. “And so, people start to vote with their pocketbook, and I say 'people' being celebrities.”
The abortion ordinance is still in draft form, meaning council has not officially brought it up in a meeting for consideration, but it’s been discussed. Council member T.J. Honerlaw vowed to push for the ordinance during a July 12 meeting, saying he has the support of the mayor, and the city’s policy and legislation committee met on Aug. 4 to dig into the potential legal ramifications of adopting the ordinance.
Organizers from Planned Parenthood descended on Mason’s last city council meeting to voice their frustration.
“The unconstitutional ordinance that Mason, Ohio is considering introducing is part of an aggressive, nationwide anti-abortion agenda to do one thing — ban abortion outright," said Lauren Blauvelt-Copelin, of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio.
Bennett thinks it’s only a matter of time until word of the controversy floats up to big names visiting the small city, especially those involved in the Western & Southern Open.
"The negative publicity around making this kind of declaration can only hurt that kind of event,” she said. “Many of the tennis players who are playing now and have played in the past are very vocal in their support for civil rights, for women's rights, for women's health care. Serena has talked a lot about the importance of women's health care after she had her baby. They're not going to hold back. Athletes, especially in the last couple of years, we're seeing them take stands that they hadn't before."
Bennett and Foster aren’t only worried about the big events like Western & Southern, but also small businesses, which are suffering 15 minutes away in Lebanon where a near-identical abortion ordinance was passed in May.
A survey study conducted and analyzed by University of Cincinnati professor Michael Cook found small business revenue was down in Lebanon in June 2021 compared to the same spending period in 2020 and 2019.
“Being down versus the pandemic in the first three weeks of June is very concerning, because most of the pandemic restrictions had been lifted, and we would expect to see a resurgence of people coming out and shopping. You know, being happy to be out again,” Cook said.
The study found 11 of the 38 small businesses surveyed were experiencing a dip in business, most of which were retail, but only 20% of restaurants said they saw an increase in sales after pandemic restrictions were lifted, according to the study.
Participants were allowed to leave anonymous comments for Cook's survey. While there were no questions about the abortion ordinance in the study, the results showed small businesses consistently citing concerns for the "boycott" associated with the abortion ban, and how shoppers now associate Lebanon businesses with the city council decision.
“I didn’t do a definitive study to say, ‘Yes, that affected it,’ but it’s kind of difficult to come up with what are other reasons,” Cook said. “The hypothesis is that, given we’ve had a number of reports of people saying, 'I’m not going to shop there because of the particular ordinance that had been passed by the city council,' we can hypothesize that it has had an effect.”
While Cook did not initially seek to collect data on the question of the abortion ordinance impacting businesses, he said the results suggest Mason should consider doing just that.
“We need to investigate further on that, and I would urge Mason to do the same,” he said. “To try and somehow get a handle on what kind of impact is this going to have before they take a step like that.”
Mark Lee Dickson, the Texas architect of both the Lebanon ordinance and Mason ordinance draft, said the legislation might change the way people spend money, but it’s not all bad.
"There's always two sides of every story,” he said. “Someone sent me receipts of where they spent over $800 in the city of Lebanon after this passed and they specifically went out of their way to spend money in Lebanon after this ordinance passed because they wanted to support a city that was a sanctuary city for the unborn."
For Bennett, it’s not just about money, it’s about why people choose to take their business elsewhere.
"I don't want to see Mason portrayed and criticized and mocked for this very narrow-minded and completely inappropriate use of city council power,” she said.