MASON, Ohio — An ordinance that was supposed to go into effect Wednesday designating Mason as a sanctuary city for the unborn was put on hold pending a referendum vote that could be held as early as May or November 2022.
A package of referendum petitions were delivered Wednesday morning to the Mason Clerk of Council for Ordinance 2021-108 to be placed on an upcoming ballot for the voters to decide.
Mason City Council voted 4-3 on Oct. 25 to approve the sanctuary city ordinance, after an attempt to adopt it as an emergency ordinance failed to get a fifth vote. The ordinance had to wait 30 days before it could go into effect.
The ordinance would have prohibited abortion clinics from opening and operating in the city of around 33,000 residents as well as penalize those who assist a woman seeking an abortion.
Mason’s ordinance mirrored an ordinance adopted in late May by Lebanon City Council. There are 39 cities in Texas, Nebraska and Ohio that have made this declaration. Lebanon is the only city in Ohio. Celina City Council on Monday rejected a proposed ordinance to become a sanctuary city for the unborn.
The proposal in Warren County’s largest city has drawn great debate for months among people on both sides of the issue.
Neither Lebanon nor Mason have abortion clinics operating within their city limits.
Assistant City Manager Jennifer Heft said in an email the city needs to wait 10 days before forwarding the petitions to the Warren County Board of Elections to validate the signatures on the ballot.
Brian Sleeth, Warren County elections director, said the Board of Elections then has up to 10 days to validate and certify the signatures on the petitions back to Mason council, which will then determine when to place the referendum on the ballot in 2022.
Until the referendum vote is held the ordinance cannot go into effect or be enforced. The new Mason City Council also can terminate the referendum vote by simply rescinding the ordinance.
The controversial ordinance has divided the city. Two incumbent council members, Michael Gilb and T.J. Honerlaw, who voted for the ordinance were not re-elected in the Nov. 2 general election. The new council takes office on Dec. 1, at which time a new mayor and vice mayor will be selected.
Joy Bennett, who spearheaded the referendum petition drive, said 1,460 signatures were needed to place the referendum on the ballot, and that petition circulators collected more than 2,000 signatures.
“I think people sent a message on this in the election,” she said. “I think council has a clear mandate. City residents are unhappy with the mayor and the current council’s direction.”
Bennett was instrumental in getting a referendum placed on the May 2022 ballot concerning the proposed Keystone Development in the downtown area.
Mayor Kathy Grossmann, who supported the sanctuary city ordinance in Mason, said residents certainly have the right to seek a referendum vote on the ordinance.
“Obviously I’m disappointed that they are not supportive of the ordinance,” Grossmann said. “I’m also disappointed about the misrepresentations of what the ordinance is about.”
She said the referendum will give supporters time to better inform the public about the ordinance and how carefully it was studied by council members.
“I’m glad the public will be able to vote for it and I hope they (the new council) will allow the people to vote,” Grossmann said.
Mark Lee Dickson of Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn met in July with Mason officials.
Dickson said the Mason ordinance preserves the status quo and does not create an undue burden for a woman seeking an abortion as set by the Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey case decided in 1992 by the U.S. Supreme Court. That court also decided the Roe v. Wade case in 1973 that legalized abortion in the nation.
In addition to prohibiting a person from procuring or performing an abortion of any type and at any stage of pregnancy inside the city limits, the ordinance also would outlaw any person from providing transportation to or from an abortion provider; giving instructions over the telephone, the internet, or any other medium of communication regarding self-administered abortion; providing money with the knowledge that it will be used to pay for an abortion or the costs associated in obtaining an abortion; providing abortion doula services; or coercing or pressuring a pregnant mother to have an abortion against her will. It also would be unlawful for any person to possess or distribute abortion-inducing drugs in the city.
The ordinance has an affirmative defense to those acts if the abortion was in response to a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that as certified by a physician, places the woman in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless an abortion is performed.
In addition, the ordinance does not permit prosecuting or penalizing the mother of an unborn child that has been aborted, or the pregnant woman who seeks an abortion.