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How it happened: Lebanon anti-abortion ordinance stemmed from faith of two councilmen and one resident

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Posted at 6:50 AM, Jun 07, 2021

LEBANON, Ohio — A city council ordinance that recently declared the city of Lebanon a sanctuary city for the unborn came about because of the work of two city councilmen and a local college student who had earlier sought to have Warren County declared a haven for Second Amendment rights, the Journal-News reports.

Joshua Beckmann, a 19-year-old Lebanon student studying political science at the University of Cincinnati, kicked off the chain of events this spring when he spoke at a meeting of the Warren County commissioners and urged them to designate Warren County as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”

The commissioners were advised by legal counsel that they did not have the legal authority to adopt such legislation. Instead, they unanimously approved a resolution affirming support for the U.S. and Ohio constitutions, the Bill of Rights and all amendments and stating they would oppose any law infringing on those rights and protections.

MORE: Lebanon becomes first Ohio city to pass local abortion ban

Beckmann said recently he learned from that experience that local government is where positive change can take place. “Big change starts at the local level,” he said.

Beckmann, then learned about an effort in Texas where communities were designating themselves as sanctuary counties for the unborn. He said he was inspired by the county commissioners resolution to see if a sanctuary city for the unborn could be done in Lebanon.

He said he reached out to Lebanon City Councilman Doug Shope to explore whether such an ordinance could be passed in Lebanon.

Shope said he is a conservative Christian and was intrigued by the question. “My faith effects every decision I make every day,” he said. “… I did not get elected to City Council with a “mission” of any kind, beyond keeping taxes low and government small, allowing the citizens to go about their lives without worrying about the mundane things of city government. Freedom is very important for people. However, one person’s freedom should never be used to cause another innocent person’s death. And that is what abortion does.”

Shope said he first asked the city’s attorney, Mark Yurick, for input on whether a zoning ordinance banning abortion providers was an option. “Cities do this all the time,” Shope said. “My thought was that this would be a simple zoning ordinance precluding the opening of an abortion provider.”

Shope said Yurick concluded that a zoning ordinance would not accomplish what he was trying to accomplish.

Shope said he next reached out to some of his contacts, which led him to Mark Harrington , a representative of an entity called Created Equal in Columbus, who put together a video conference with Mark Lee Dickson of the Texas-based organization called Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn.

Shope said he crafted the ordinance with their help, and brought it to council’s May 4 work session.

Then-councilwoman Krista Wyatt expressed her opposition. On the night of the council vote at its next meeting, Wyatt chose to resign her seat, but indicated in a social media post that the ordinance was only part of the reason for her resignation.

Shope said he also reached out to fellow Councilman Adam Matthews. Matthewsis a patent and intellectual property attorney as well as chairman of Elizabeth’s New Life Center, a network of anti-abortion women’s centers throughout Southwest Ohio.

He reviewed the information provided by Shope and said it seemed within the bounds of the law.

“It was the next right thing to do,” Matthews said. “When the idea was brought forward, it was justified as an opportunity to stand up to challenges. There was no reason not to move forward. It was time to get moving on it.”

Shope said he feels the ordinance is within the council’s role as prescribed by the city charter and does not violate federal law or rights in abortion rights cases as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union - Ohio has have said they are prepared to sue Lebanon over the ordinance. Freda Levenson, ACLU-Ohio legal director, said they are reviewing the information and determining their legal strategy. Yurick said the ACLU-Ohio made a public records request seeking more information.

“Even though there are currently no abortions being performed in Lebanon, dragging it out would have put a big target on the city as a place for someone to initiate opening such a facility,” Shope said. “If one were currently operating, or in the process of opening, it would add obstacles to the ordinance. This is why we could not delay.”

Shope said he was not concerned about a possible boycott of Lebanon’s businesses as possible fallout because of the ordinance. He believes it is likely that more people will visit Lebanon more because of its “honorable stance.”

The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO 9 News.