UPDATE: Columbus City Council voted Monday to approve ordinances that it says will protect abortion and reproductive health care within city limits.
“The next three ordinances I will read will represent our long-term agenda for reproductive justice in Columbus because no one is free and no one is equal without control over their own bodies, lives, and futures,” Columbus City Council President Pro Tempore Elizabeth Brown said before reading the ordinances.
The original story explaining those ordinances is below.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – City officials in Columbus are standing their ground against Ohio’s six-week abortion ban.
Columbus City Council is expected to vote Monday on a three-pronged legislative package authored by its Women’s Caucus to protect access to reproductive health care, according to President Pro Tempore Elizabeth Brown. The array of ordinances includes a $1 million grant to abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, a pledge to deprioritize prosecuting abortion-related crimes, and authorizing the City to investigate what Brown called “fake health clinics” – crisis pregnancy centers.
“Our legislative package is inspired by the basic fact that when people have access to a full range of reproductive healthcare services, whether that’s birth control, abortion or maternity care, they are healthier and their families thrive,” Brown said.
In a rebuke of Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, commonly known as the heartbeat bill, one of the three ordinances would direct city officials and law enforcement not to store or share information related to the reproductive health care choices made by Columbus residents.
While the City Council must abide by the confines of state and federal law, Brown said the seven-member council is the “frontlines of law enforcement” that exercises discretion when it comes to prosecuting and investigating crimes. The “driving focus” for Columbus law enforcement, Brown said, should be on combating violent crime and addressing mental health crises.
“Before Roe v. Wade was passed in the 70’s, women would be criminalized for their abortions by essentially someone saying they had a suspect miscarriage,” Brown said. “Those kinds of investigations initiated by our law enforcement or our prosecutors have no place as a priority for city resources.”
The Council’s Women’s Caucus, which includes Brown and Councilmembers Shayla Favor and Lourdes Barroso de Padilla, also took aim at crisis pregnancy centers, often called CPCs, which often operate as charitable organizations that provide material support and peer-to-peer counseling to pregnant women.
Brown characterized CPCs as “fake health clinics” staffed by medically unlicensed volunteers who seek to dissuade women from choosing abortion by “hoodwinking consumers with false and misleading information” about their options.
“It’s a real public health concern if lies are told in these exam rooms, lies up to and including claims of an association between abortion and adverse health consequences, sometimes encouragement not to seek immediate prenatal care or even misinformation on condoms and contraceptives,” Brown said.
Under the council’s legislative package, abortion rights advocacy group Pro-Choice Ohio would receive a $26,500 grant to hire investigators to determine whether the services and messaging used by CPCs are accurate.
Targeting crisis pregnancy centers, many of which receive thousands of dollars in state funding, is nothing more than a “massive witch hunt,” according to Beth Vanderkooi, executive director of Greater Columbus Right to Life.
“It would be kind of the equivalent of the state of Ohio giving Greater Columbus Right to Life $500,000 to oppose abortion clinics or to investigate abortion clinics,” Vanderkooi said.
More than 100 CPCs exist in Ohio – with about 10 operating in Columbus – that serve thousands of pregnant people with everything from connecting them with prenatal care, parenting courses, safe housing, adoption referrals and more, Vanderkooi said.
“Pregnancy centers exist to fill the need of women who, perhaps because of finances or the structure of society or their lack of support, feel like abortion is their best or their only option,” Vanderkooi said. “So pregnancy centers are filling that need and to target them to close is just really reprehensible.”
If passed, City Council’s package would allocate an additional $1 million of the general fund to abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio to bolster their efforts in providing reproductive health care to Columbus residents.
Brown said the three-pronged package is only one piece of the Council’s long-term efforts to protect reproductive health in Columbus.
An ordinance was enacted into city code last year to prohibit discrimination on the basis of one’s reproductive health choices – a move to prevent further stressors on women who already face obstacles to abortion care in Ohio, Brown said.
“To add to that any kind of uncertainty that you might be fired when you return?” she said. That’s not a position we want anyone in our city.”
The City Council is expected to vote on the legislative package during its 5 p.m. meeting on Monday.