MASON, Ohio — The clock is ticking on the window for Mason residents to submit the necessary signatures to initiate a referendum on the city’s controversial abortion ban.
The ordinance, which was passed by the Mason City Council Oct. 25, is set to go in effect next week. The 30-day window after passage and before the law takes effect also serves as the deadline for signatures to be gathered and submitted in the referendum process.
“I can’t believe this is happening in Mason,” said Joy Bennett, a Mason resident leading the committee for a referendum. “I can’t believe that we are fighting this kind of thing in 2021.”
Bennett said she has already gathered more than 1,800 signatures in support of a referendum, which would place the ordinance on a future ballot for voters to decide whether they want to keep it in place or overturn the law. Only 1,460 signatures from registered Mason voters are required to prompt a referendum, according to Bennett. The committee wants to be sure they have enough extra signatures in case of any issues in the validation process and also serve as a message to council about the wishes of voters.
“We would really like for this law and this precedent to be reversed and for city council to focus on what city council is meant to do and not to try to legislate such a divisive issue,” Bennett said.
The “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance passed amid controversy in October. Some members of Mason’s council wanted to pass the law as an emergency measure, although the 4-3 vote prevented that from being the case. Had five members voted in favor, the emergency provision would have prevented any possible referendum by voters.
The law bans abortions within city limits and makes it illegal for people to assist someone in getting an abortion. It also criminalizes certain prescription drugs.
In November’s election, all four city council members who won election were openly opposed to the anti-abortion ordinance. Two of those, council members Diana Nelson and Ashley Chance, voted against the ordinance when it came before council. Two other incumbent candidates, Vice Mayor Mike Gilb and Council Member T.J. Honerlaw, lost their bids for reelection after voting in favor of the law.
Bennett said she believes the election results also indicated public sentiment toward the ordinance.
“It’s attacking a fundamental right to access health care that I believe we need to keep,” Bennet said. “We felt like the city voters should get a chance to weigh in, if it should stand. Now our city council could choose to reverse it.”
If the newly-elected council, whose term begin in December, chooses to overturn the ordinance themselves, Bennett says that would end the referendum process. But the committee still plans to collect signatures all weekend long in case that doesn’t end up happening.
The committee plans to submit signatures to city hall early next week, after which they will be validated by the Warren County Board of Elections.
You can find a list of locations where the committee plans to gather signatures here.