Amid protests, Cincinnati City Council votes to add abortion to employee health benefits

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Cincinnati City Hall photographed on Wednesday, June 23, 2021.
Cincinnati City Hall photographed on Wednesday, June 23, 2021.

Cincinnati City Council  – including its lone Republican – unanimously voted Wednesday to allow employee health insurance to cover elective abortions.

The city's votes come days after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and Ohio's ban on abortions after six weeks became law.

About a dozen members of Cincinnati Right to Life gathered in City Hall with signs that read "Pro Life" and "Protection at Conception" as council debated the issue.

One protester, Mary Foster, said she was there to show the "other side" after Mayor Aftab Pureval said the city would look at ways to decriminalize abortion earlier this week.

“Women are desperate," Foster said. "We understand that, but we want to be able to show them all of the free resources and help that are available instead of just running in to get abortions."

The legislation repealed a 2001 measure that excluded voluntary abortion from city employees' health insurance coverage.

The ordinance underscored the city's commitment to "protecting a person’s right to choose, a person’s right to bodily autonomy, and a person’s ability to control their own reproductive care,” Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney said. 

"There are folks who are using their power to try and control women and children," Councilman Greg Landsman said. "With this vote and our work, we're using what power we have to protect and support them."

The ordinance doesn't establish how travel costs for medical procedures will be handled or whether there will be a cap. Employees' use of health benefits are confidential, and travel expenses related to health will be handled the same way, a city lawyer said.

Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis said his organization plans to sue the city over the ordinance. He says it violates a 2007 state law which made using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion illegal, with exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the pregnant mother.

"What the mayor is doing is virtue signaling to his base and violating the rights of pro-life taxpayers in Cincinnati," Gonidakis said.

Despite this, City Solicitor Andrew Garth said in the meeting he's not concerned.

"This ordinance does not expose the city to any legal liability," Garth said.

The ordinance passed 9-0, with Republican Liz Keating joining the nine.

The city also passed a resolution against the Supreme Court decision also reaffirmed an individual's "right to control their reproductive health both in Ohio and the United States."

"We are a city that believes in the fundamental constitutional right to choose," Councilor Meeka Owens said while introducing the bill.

Keating suggested an amendment to the language that limited the scope to pregnancies within the first trimester with exceptions the health and life of the mother. When asked, she said she was open to exceptions for rape and incest as well.

"I am a Catholic Republican woman ... I am asking my colleagues where can we come together to find something to agree on," Keating said.

The amendment failed to pass, and Keating was the lone vote against the resolution.

City Council is on recess for the month of July. Any future abortion legislation, including Pureval's proposal to decriminalize it in Cincinnati, will come to the floor in August.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Abortion rights legislation passes in city council