MASON, Ohio — When Mason Mayor Kathy Grossman opened Monday’s City Council meeting, she commented on the “robust crowd” attending the meeting it was an understatement, according to the Journal-News.
An ordinance that would declare Mason a “sanctuary city for the unborn” is being considered by a council committee; it has not been drafted or introduced as legislation. A similar ordinance was passed this year by the Lebanon City Council.
Prior to the start of the meeting Monday, anti-abortion and pro-choice supporters were protesting outside of the Mason City Building.
The Mason City Council meeting went late on Monday night as more than 150 attended on both sides of the anti-abortion and pro-choice debate until the shouting resulted in Grossman adjourning the council meeting about 11:30 p.m. at the suggestion of police and City Manager Eric Hansen.
Pro-choice protestors began shouting at council that abortion was still legal in Ohio and said the proposal was outrageous and unconstitutional.
Throughout the 4 1/2-hour meeting, the audience was warned by Grossman about disrupting the meeting with talking, clapping and shouting at speakers.
More than 60 people signed up to speak about the matter.
The proposed legislation would ban abortion facilities in the city as well as enact criminal penalties for businesses or persons who helped a woman to get an abortion, which remains legal in Ohio.
City officials said the proposed legislation was suggested by Councilman T.J. Honerlaw on July 12. He and Grossman reportedly met with Mark Lee Dickson, a director with Right to Life of East Texas and founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn initiative. Dickson also met with Lebanon council members prior to that council’s decision.
Mason officials had prepared an overflow room and the lobby with a video screen and audio for people to listen to the meeting if there were no seats in the actual council chamber. Outside of the chamber, supporters held signs for both sides for council to see in addition to the signs that were being held for those in the chamber.
After holding a public hearing on a development project and receiving its update from the city manager, the floor was opened for the first round of citizen comments for 30 minutes.
James McMillian called the proposed argument an “absurb argument” as no abortions are done in Mason. He called the proposal “a religious type deal” based on council’s religious beliefs.
“We don’t want to have your religious beliefs pushed on us,” he said.
McMillan also said the legality of the proposal is “questionable.”
Lori Viars of Warren County Right to Life, told council that no lawsuits have been filed against Lebanon.
The American Civil Liberties Union has said it is preparing legal action against Lebanon, but has not filed a lawsuit as of Monday.
Viars said there would be provisions for Mason to receive free legal representation. She also said Lebanon has seen an increase of 7.1% in revenues since that city adopted the sanctuary city for the unborn ordinance.
She noted that Monday night, Leona, Texas became the 35th Sanctuary City for the Unborn. Lebanon was the first in Ohio and 29th in the nation.
Viars comment about the increase in revenue was disputed by Alecia Lipton, director of Main Street Lebanon, who said in a recent survey of Lebanon businesses, the ordinance has actually hurt businesses.
“Politics do impact businesses,” she said.
Lipton, who is a candidate for Lebanon City Council in November, said an upcoming antique show, which has been held each year for 70 years, has received email responses from people who said they routinely visited Lebanon but are not coming back because of the ordinance. She “implored” Mason council not follow Lebanon’s lead.
“I don’t want to see Mason go through what Lebanon has,” she said.
Another speaker, Kathy Elliott, questioned the potential for penalties for aiding and abetting a woman seeking an abortion or for a pharmacy providing medications legally prescribed. She questioned how it would use federally protected medical information to enforce this law if approved and other unforeseen consequences.
She advised them to “stay in your lane” and take care road paving and revitalizing the downtown district and not meddle in personal, legal and medical issues. Elliot described the proposal “as tossing red meat” to help re-elect a council member.
Former mayor and councilman Don Prince declared he “stands for life of the unborn,” adding that “everyone who is in favor of abortion has already been born.”
Leticia Walker said Mason is a community that loves children and people move to Mason because of the community. She said a fetus is a human being and the proposal is about respect for life.
Ginger Lehman said she was proud of Warren County and that this is a moral issue. She said God has plans for everyone and council will “ultimately have to answer to the Almighty for their decision.”
Other speakers talked about the experience of miscarriages and of being raped, and said the proposal is “unconstitutional on so many levels.”
One speaker who said she had been raped told council this will lead to illegal and unsafe abortions and is concerned she could be prosecuted if she had to help her granddaughter.
After the meeting was adjourned, Mayor Kathy Grossman said, they “didn’t anticipate a crowd like this.” She said she was “very disappointed because she wanted to hear from everyone. It wasn’t my call to adjourn, but its safety first.”
Grossman said the proposal is still being reviewed and analyzed in committee and has not been scheduled to be considered by council for approval.