Residents petition City Council to decriminalize abortion in Athens

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ATHENS, Ohio – The subject of abortion wasn’t on the agenda for Monday’s Athens City Council meeting, but city residents turned out in force to ask the Council to protect reproductive rights within city limits. It was the Council’s first meeting back after its summer break in July. 

A city resident speaks to the Athens City Council. The photo is taken from the back of council chambers and there are residents filling almost every seat.
A city resident speaks to the Athens City Council on Monday, Aug. 1. [Kaitlin Throne | WOUB]
The request for Athens to become a sanctuary city for reproductive rights is in response to both the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and Ohio banning abortion after six weeks. 

A call to attend Monday night’s meeting was put out on social media, largely through the Facebook page “Athenians for Bodily Autonomy,” a group which focuses on both abortion and transgender rights. 

Prior to opening the floor during the community comment portion of the meeting, Council President Chris Knisley noted that many of those in attendance were there to speak on the same issue and asked that a spokesperson lead off the conversation with an overview of what was being asked. 

Ari Faber, an operations coordinator with United Campus Ministry, spoke first on behalf of the group, detailing four requests for the City Council. 

“We ask you to formally, and in writing, pledge to the residents of Athens County the following:

  1. You will decline to use resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions;
  2. The Athens legal system will refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, and/or support abortions;
  3. You will uphold your ethically bound commitment to protect the well-being and safety of all members of our community;
  4. You will pass a resolution to deprioritize enforcement of abortion laws and depenalize abortion.”

Faber cited Athens City Code 9.06.20, Cannabis Laws and Penalties, which decreased penalties and fines for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Decriminalizing marijuana at the municipal level has become more widespread over the past few years and now in light of the overturn of Roe, some cities are beginning to pass ordinances to decriminalize abortion or provide other protections. 

If Athens were to adopt an ordinance to decriminalize abortion it would join the three major Ohio Cities in taking a stance on the overturn of Roe. 

Last week, the Columbus City Council voted unanimously to protect abortion and reproductive health care within the city limits and approved a $1 million grant to abortion rights groups. Earlier in July, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb announced that the city would not prosecute abortion-related crimes and would make investigation of such crimes a low-priority for the city. Additionally Cleveland is set to establish a city fund to help cover the cost of residents having to travel for abortion access. The Cincinnati City Council became the first Ohio city to take a stance in June when it voted to ensure that abortion would be covered by insurance for city employees.

Following Faber, several residents spoke about why they each felt the City Council should adopt an ordinance in support of reproductive rights. 

Aubrei Krummert spoke to the council about the reality of sexual abuse in the state and referenced the highly-discussed case of a ten-year-old girl who became pregnant as the result of rape and traveled with her mother to Indiana for an abortion. 

“Ohio’s abortion ban makes no exceptions for rape or incest. The impacts of this horrifying law are enormous,” Krummert said. 

Krummert cited Ohio’s Children’s Advocacy Centers which reported 6,717 cases of sexual abuse of children aged 0-18 years old in 2021 alone. Additionally, she pointed to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network which reports 26.4% of undergraduate women experience sexual assault. 

“Knowing this, what teenager would choose Ohio University, where if raped she’d be forced to carry that pregnancy to term or risk being charged with murder?” Krummert said. 

Local EMT worker Madalyne Smith told the council that in her four years on the job in Athens County she has only responded to one emergency stemming from an at-home abortion. It involved two 15-year-olds living in a rural area. They didn’t have access to an abortion without getting their parents involved, but Smith said they had “the internet and determination.”

“They didn’t have a wire hanger, but they did have access to spools of wire found in one of their father’s workshops,” Smith said. 

The teenagers called 911 after the patient began to bleed profusely. Smith and her team were able to stop the bleeding and save her life.

“I wonder what will happen when these foolhardy attempts become not only dangerous, but illegal,” Smith said. “How likely will it be that someone will wait until it’s too late rather than call 911 as soon as they realize they messed up? Will fear of prosecution result in delayed care as I have seen it do in so many other cases of illegal activity that resulted in harm? Abortion bans do not stop abortion, they only create barriers to care.” 

Hans Beautner, a board member with United Campus Ministries, told the Council that becoming a sanctuary city for reproductive rights is an opportunity for Athens. According to Beautner, it would save the city financially as it would not have to devote resources to investigating and prosecuting abortions, it would save tax payer money and would market the city as a welcoming and safe place that people would want to visit. 

“For all these good things, all we need from the city council is a promise to do nothing. So I hope you’ll consider this,” Beautner said.

After the community members all had their chance to speak, Council President Knisley thanked the audience for their comments and asked for a copy of the petition, which was provided by Ari Faber. As of time of publication, the petition has 298 signatures. 

Faber said that he is currently going over the ordinance that was adopted in Columbus and is using it as a guideline for an ordinance in Athens. The Athenians for Bodily Autonomy group plans to submit the ordinance to council in the hopes that it will be introduced for a first reading at the next Athens City Council meeting on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m.