Cincinnati, Ohio – Today, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and Abortion Fund of Ohio (formerly Women Have Options (WHO/O)) defeated the City of Lebanon, Ohio’s attempt to keep an expansive, criminal prohibition on “aiding” and “abetting” people seeking to access legal abortion services.
Represented by the ACLU of Ohio and Democracy Forward, NASW and Abortion Fund of Ohio challenged Lebanon’s abortion ban in May for violating constitutionally protected rights to due process and freedom of speech as well as the Ohio constitution. Today, the social workers and advocates concluded their lawsuit after the City amended its ordinance by removing its most draconian provisions and further stipulated in court that its amended ordinance has no effect outside Lebanon.
In response to the lawsuit, the City drastically narrowed the law’s prohibition on “aiding” and “abetting.” The amended ban no longer criminalizes people like advocates and social workers for providing assistance to Lebanon residents accessing lawful abortion care outside of Lebanon. Furthermore, the amended law no longer specifically prohibits a wide range of activity, including providing transportation, instructions, money, and “abortion doula” services, including counseling. Throughout the litigation, the City declined to defend the abortion ban in court and repeatedly chose to retreat, rather than publicly defend its ban.
The case, National Association of Social Workers v. City of Lebanon, Ohio, was the first challenge to an abortion ban filed after the leak of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that would overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
For years, right-wing anti-abortion extremists have mounted a city-by-city campaign to ban abortion. Recently, they have been expanding their strategy to criminalize activities by people like social workers and community advocates who seek to assist people in need of care. While there is still a harmful abortion ban on the books in Lebanon, OH, Jonathan Mitchell (the attorney and anti-abortion extremist who brought the ban to Lebanon and represented the City in the case) and the City of Lebanon’s refusal to defend the ban’s original “aiding” and “abetting” provisions demonstrates their knowledge that such provisions are unlawful.
“We are proud to have defeated Lebanon's attempt to criminalize social workers for simply doing their jobs," said Danielle Smith, Executive Director of NASW Ohio. “Prior to our successful litigation, social workers across Ohio were at risk of being sent to jail not only for helping people access essential health care but even just providing therapeutic space for clients to talk about abortion. This is a critical victory in ensuring our clients receive quality care.”
“Lebanon's fruitless ordinance wasn't the first—nor will it be the last—attack on our bodily autonomy,” said Maggie Scotece, Interim Executive Director of the Abortion Fund of Ohio. “This litigation exposes local ordinance bans as dangerous acts of political theater, and our lawsuit demanded accountability for the logistical and legal nightmare Lebanon's City Council created. This win is so unique in the context of our post-Dobbs legal landscape, establishing a strong, united front against these heinous attacks. We're incredibly grateful for the dedicated work of our legal team, our co-plaintiffs, and our community for supporting us as we fight for abortion access for all Ohioans.”
“Because of draconian abortion bans that are being enforced after Dobbs, many are having to travel outside their cities and states to access care. Our suit successfully stopped the City of Lebanon from criminalizing activities by social workers and advocates who help people access care,” said John Lewis, Senior Counsel for Democracy Forward. “This is an important victory – but it is only the beginning, and we will continue to support efforts to achieve reproductive freedom for all.”
“Abortion bans like the one we challenged in Lebanon use the threat of prosecution to stop people from accessing and providing critical reproductive care,” said Kristen Miller, Senior Counsel for Democracy Forward. “Because of our lawsuit, Ohioans who help people receive and access abortion care – social workers, advocates, and so many others – will not face criminalization under the City’s ordinance.”
“We will remain vigilant and monitor local city councils around the state who attempt to ban abortion. We will never stop fighting until Ohioans have unrestricted access to abortion at the local and state level. To other city councils considering local ordinances to outlaw abortion or criminalize constitutionally protected rights - we’ll be watching,” noted Jessie Hill, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.