What’s Democracy Forward doing? 

In the first case to be filed challenging an abortion restriction since the Supreme Court’s leaked opinion, on May 11, 2022 the National Association of Social Workers and Women Have Options – Ohio sued Lebanon, Ohio to overturn its anti-abortion ordinance. Democracy Forward and the ACLU of Ohio are representing NASW and WHO/O.

We are asking the court to declare the ban unlawful in whole or in part, and to prevent the city of Lebanon and its agents from enforcing it.

What’s the problem with the Lebanon, Ohio ordinance? 

First it bans the constitutionally protected right to obtain an abortion. The Supreme Court seems poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, but Roe and Casey (the landmark decision upholding Roe in 1992) are still the law in this country.

Although Roe and Casey remain settled law, this case does not depend on whether the US Supreme Court keeps decades of that precedent intact. Instead, the complaint alleges that the restrictions are unlawfully vague and violate constitutional due process and free speech guarantees as well as state law.   

Lebanon’s abortion ban is vague, it is confusing, and it requires ordinary citizens to interpret and apply complex, nuanced legal concepts to determine if they are breaking the law. Consider that:

  • There are no abortion clinics within Lebanon city limits. The ordinance is banning something that cannot even take place in the city. 
  • It purports to ban any prohibited abortions even if the abortion doesn’t take place in Lebanon. 
  • It forbids people from “knowingly aiding or abetting” a prohibited abortion, but fails to define what “aiding” or “abetting” means. 

How did we get here? 

Beginning in 2019 and continuing today, anti-abortion activists have engaged in a national campaign to encourage local cities and counties to adopt sweeping bans on abortion care and to penalize people who seek to assist those in need of care. 

Today, more than 40 cities and towns across the country have passed these ordinances. The language in these ordinances, which by their terms designate so-called “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn,” and the people behind them, are closely linked to SB-8 in Texas—one of the most extreme abortion bans in the United States. 

As part of this campaign, in May, 2021, Lebanon’s city council passed an ordinance that outlaws abortion in the town, and criminalizes providing assistance to anyone seeking an abortion— even if the abortion takes place outside the city limits. 

Why does this case matter? 

Our suit does not rely on Roe or Casey to deem Lebanon, Ohio’s abortion ban unlawful. And that’s really important with the Supreme Court likely to overturn both rulings and end nearly fifty years of settled precedent with respect to the right to privacy. 

These sorts of ordinances also do not exist in a vacuum — they are linked to and reinforce other threats to democratic institutions. It is not a coincidence these abortion bans have taken hold in states that have also introduced and passed restrictions on voting rights. 

It is all part of the chilling glimpse we are being given into the reality extremists want to impose on people and communities across the country. 

What happens next?

At Democracy Forward, we will continue to develop and use innovative legal strategies to safeguard access to abortion care through the courts, as we’ve done with this case.