By Ben Deeter
Ever since Texas passed the controversial law known as S.B. 8, the national conversation around abortion to a fever pitch.
While the Texas law works through the court, states and cities with conservative leaders have been taking their own actions to restrict abortion.
One of the strategies growing in popularity on the political right is enacting local ordinances banning abortions within city or town limits, creating what abortion rights opponents call "sanctuary cities for the unborn."
"Sanctuary cities essentially are different communities throughout the United States, stepping up and saying, 'Hey, you know, we might not be able to ban abortion completely on a state level,'" said Allie Frazier, communications director for Ohio Right to Life. "We might not be able to do it on a federal level yet, but what we can do is come together and say our community is not going to allow the violence of abortion."
Currently, at least 37 cities in the U.S. have passed ordinances banning abortion within their city limits. Most of these are in Texas, as the group advocating for these measures, the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn initiative, is based in the Lone Star state.
With a big victory at home, now they're expanding. The fight over these ordinances has moved to southwest Ohio. The city of Lebanon, about a half-hour north of Cincinnati, passed an ordinance banning abortion in May.
The neighboring city of Mason recently passed its own resolution. The effort faced criticism from abortion rights advocates, who say local lawmakers are beholden to interests from outside the state.
The Texas group promised to help Mason with its legal costs in defending the ordinance if it passed, but only if the draconian language remained unchanged.
"We declare that abortion at all times and in all stages of pregnancy is an unlawful act if performed in Mason, Ohio," the ordinance reads in part, "unless the abortion was in response to a life threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that, as certified by a physician, places the woman in danger of death of a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless an abortion is performed."
The ordinance includes no language making exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Opponents of the Mason measure have seized on this as a key argument against the ban.
"[N]ow we have the side of the argument that we can push, that they aren't doing this in the interest of the community, they're doing it in the interest of this outside organization," said Ariana Ybarra, an organizer for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, who's worked with activists in Mason against the abortion ban.
Other cities in Ohio are at various stages of considering similar city-limit abortion bans, and the spread is likely to continue. It's all part of a targeted strategy to push states to do more to restrict abortion rights.
Right now, at the state level, Ohio is working on several other abortion-related bills, including a trigger law which would automatically outlaw abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. If passed, it would be the 12th state to enact such a law.
Such a decision would rock politics at the local, state, and federal level and likely be a boon for both sides of the abortion debate.
Until that happens, representatives of each side say they've still got a lot of work to do.
"What we're seeing in Texas was Senate Bill 8, what we're seeing with the Supreme Court taking up the Jackson Women's Health case this fall, you're really seeing activists wake up and realize that the threat is real," said Jaime Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
"The [pro-life] movement's goal has always been to save babies and support women," said Frazier, of Ohio Right to Life. "And nothing about that changes after abortion is made illegal in Ohio and then ultimately in our nation. We are always going to step up and say we respect this child's right to life and we want to have this woman feel empowered enough that she doesn't even feel like abortion is the right choice for her."
Check out more of our Abortion in America series: