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Cincinnati City Council Lifts Ordinance Restricting Elective Abortion Healthcare Coverage | Cincinnati News | Cincinnati


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Cincinnati City Council member Meeka Owens introduces a resolution affirming abortion care on June 29, 2022.

Cincinnati City Council just passed an ordinance permitting the city to amend its health plan to include coverage of elective abortion care, but first, there were sparks over language in another reproductive-health item.

Cincinnati City Council’s pro-choice resolution

During the June 29 council meeting, Cincinnati City Council member Meeka Owens introduced a resolution denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to reverse Roe v. Wade and affirming the council’s unequivocal support for people who choose any type of abortion care as part of their healthcare. The resolution was submitted by Owens, the other seven Democrats on the council and Democratic mayor Aftab Pureval.

The resolution:

RESOLUTION, submitted by Councilmember Owens, Mayor Aftab Pureval, Vice Mayor Kearney, Councilmembers Cramerding, Harris, Jeffreys, Johnson, Landsman, and Parks, from Andrew W. Garth, City Solicitor, AFFIRMING Cincinnati City Council’s support for an individual’s right to make basic, fundamental choices about their own reproductive health; DENOUNCING the majority decision released by the Supreme Court of the United States of America in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization; EXPRESSING Council’s position that access to contraceptive aids and control, including access to safe abortion, is a fundamental right of all those with the ability to conceive; EXPRESSING City Council’s and the Mayor’s commitment to protecting these fundamental rights of all Cincinnatians; and further EXPRESSING opposition to a total ban on abortion in the State of Ohio.

“The actions we have taken this week to preserve this right is a signal to the world that in order to uphold and to protect the health, safety, autonomy and dignity of city employees and our residents demands a clear, thoughtful and compassionate response. We are moving forward, not back,” Owens said.

“It is amazing – and I’ll say it again – the level of hypocrisy that men have the nerve, the gall, to try to tell a woman what she should do with her own body. It’s appalling. We’re going back to caveman days where ‘You do what I tell you to do,’ not having a clue what goes on with a woman when she’s trying to make that decision,” council member Scotty Johnson added. “I am proud to sit on this dais with people who will not take steps back into the darkness.”

But Liz Keating, the lone Republican on the council, felt that the resolution was too “extreme” and introduced a friendly amendment to change the resolution’s language to offer support only “up to the end of the first trimester or when the life or health of the mother is at risk.” The original resolution included no restrictions and left the decision entirely to the individual.

“I personally am very strong pro-life, but I also have very strong feelings that a woman has every right to make her own private healthcare decisions with her healthcare provider,” Keating said. “I don’t think I can sign on to a resolution that leaves it open to allow for late-term abortions.”

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national nonprofit that provides health policy analysis, a “late-term abortion” is one that occurs after 21 weeks gestation. However, KFF says that the term is routinely denounced by members of the medical community.

“Members of the medical community have criticized the term ‘late-term’ abortion, as it implies abortions are taking place after a pregnancy has reached ‘term’ (37 weeks) or ‘late term’ (>41 weeks) which is false. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has written that ‘late-term abortion’ has no medical meaning and should not be used in clinical or legal settings,” the foundation writes.

According to 2020 data from the Ohio Department of Health, more than 87% of abortions happen within the first trimester. In 2020, only about 10% of abortion care cases happened between weeks 13 and 18, and there were 441 cases involving pregnancies of 19 weeks or more.

“Reasons individuals seek abortions later in pregnancy include medical concerns such as fetal anomalies or maternal life endangerment, as well as barriers to care that cause delays in obtaining an abortion,” KFF says of abortions that happen later.

The council floor opened up for comments, with other council members sharing their discomfort with putting restrictions on an individual making medical decisions.

“It seems to me that this is straightforward in the sense that the decision needs to either be between women and their healthcare providers, or somebody else is intervening – politicians, whoever – and telling women, their healthcare providers what they’re supposed to be doing and what they can’t do with their bodies,” council member Greg Landsman said.

Council member Reggie Harris said that he appreciated what it meant for Keating to bring forward the amendment, especially knowing her faith’s influence. But he, like others, could not see legislating any part of the healthcare decision.

“I also feel very strongly that the parsing of language and to say whether it’s first trimester or late term – I am uncomfortable because there are just a number of situations that I believe happen in a person who can have children’s life that we can’t account for in legislation,” Harris said. “Just the obsession around a woman [who] chooses to terminate her pregnancy is just – to me, I just don’t feel comfortable in my constitution litigating that, putting some parameters. I’m not a medical doctor, I’ve never had an abortion, I’m never going to have an abortion.”

Keating replied that she would prefer to support a bipartisan resolution with “common ground.”

“I am a Catholic, Republican, woman, mother coming to the table to find some consensus here to be able to make a powerful statement on something that divides us so deeply in this country. And I’m asking where are my colleagues to come together and find something that we can agree on,” Keating said.

Johnson, who also has expressed his faith during meetings, shared his thoughts.

“I’m an ordained elder in the word of God, and with that, I just don’t believe it’s any man’s or anybody else’s business to tell a woman what her decision should be. Between her, whoever she serves as her God and her doctor,” Johnson said. “I appreciate Miss Keating. I think Miss Keating is amazing. But as an ordained elder, I need to stay in my lane when it comes to telling women what they ought to do. Nobody in [Washington] D.C., nobody in Ohio and nobody in Cincinnati should be making that decision for a woman.”

Vice mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney made the final comment on Keating’s friendly amendment.

“The resolution, the purpose of it, is to support the individual’s right to choose – a woman’s right to make basic fundamental choices about her own reproductive health,” Keating said. “It’s not to set limits on her, right? It’s not to formulate an ordinance on when she can or cannot use that right. It’s really supporting a woman’s right to choose. That’s what this is. And so there’s really no need to put in certain restrictions.”

Keating’s friendly amendment failed without anyone seconding it. Owens’ original resolution passed 8-1 to applause in the chamber. Keating was the sole nay.

Cincinnati’s abortion care coverage for city employees

Later during the June 29 Cincinnati City Council meeting, council approved an ordinance submitted by Pureval to repeal a 2001 ordinance that restricts the city from covering elective abortions in its Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plan. Pureval had announced the prospective policy change during a June 27 press conference.

The ordinance:

ORDINANCE (EMERGENCY), dated 06/24/2022, submitted by Mayor Aftab Pureval, from Andrew W. Garth, City Solicitor, REPEALING Ordinance No. 305-2001; and AUTHORIZING the City Manager to take all necessary action required to amend the City of Cincinnati’s health insurance plans administered by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to include coverage for elective abortion-related health services.

 With some supportive discussion, the ordinance passed unanimously.

During the June 27 address, Pureval said that after repealing the 2001 ordinance, interim city manager John Curp would amend Cincinnati’s healthcare coverage to include abortion services. Pureval also said Curp will introduce “a comprehensive travel reimbursement policy” that would provide reimbursement for travel for healthcare if that care is not covered under the city’s health plan and is unavailable or restricted within 150 miles of Cincinnati. 

After the reversal of Roe on June 24, Ohio banned abortion after six weeks gestation except in a handful of circumstances. There are no exceptions in cases of rape or incest, and doctors performing abortions can be charged with a fifth-degree felony.

“There are folks who are using their power to, you know, try to control women and children. And with this vote and our work, we’re using what power we have to protect and support them,” Landsman said during the council meeting.

Billy Weber, assistant city manager, said that the human resources department is still in the process of developing policy details and could not provide cost estimates. He added that as with other health benefits for city employees, the travel reimbursement is being designed as a confidential, protected benefit.

City solicitor Andrew W. Garth said that the repeal of the old ordinance would not expose the city to legal liability.

Cincinnati’s adoption of covered elective abortion care and travel reimbursements for this and other reproductive care comes as local corporations and employers are enacting similar policies. This month, both Kroger and Procter & Gamble announced new coverages and reimbursements. Both headquartered in Cincinnati, Kroger and P&G are the third-largest and 26th-largest employers in Ohio, respectively, according to the Ohio Research Office.

Experts have noted that states with abortion restrictions – including Ohio – are at risk of losing business opportunities and tax base boosts.

Editor’s note: Some of the people quoted in this feature frame their abortion language around “women,” meaning a sex assigned at birth. But transgender men, intersex individuals, non-binary individuals and agender individuals also receive abortion care. We will continue to explore abortion issues that affect all individuals in future stories.

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