Democrats in Red States Are Strategizing Ways to Protect Abortion Seekers

This story was first published by The 19th.

When a draft opinion leaked in early MayAftab Pureval, Cincinnati Mayor turned to his staff after it was revealed that the Supreme Court intended to overturn Roe v. Wade. Pureval wanted a solution to the problem of abortion access in his state. Ohio now bans abortion after six weeksPregnancy.

“We immediately started thinking, ‘What can we do in the instance that Roe v. Wade went down?’” he told The 19th. “That’s frankly when, during that research, we discovered the 2001 ordinance.”

This ordinance, passed by another city council, prohibited city employees from having work-related abortions covered by their insurance. Pureval announced that the council would repeal this restriction and create new rules that would allow city insurance to include services related to abortion. It unanimously did so Wednesday.

Hamilton County, which is home to Cincinnati, is one of only a few Ohio counties where the majority of voters backed President Joe Biden for 2020. This is despite the fact that Ohio overall voted for Republican Donald Trump eight points higher.

“We are a blue city in a red state. And that dynamic … is playing out right now in real time, where local leaders are trying to understand how to effectuate these laws, if at all, and also how to protect their constituents,” Pureval said.

Similar dynamics can be found in several Republican-led states, which also have large urban areas. Polling showsLiberals are more likely live in cities than conservatives, while conservatives prefer rural areas and small towns. This has led to Democratic officials in charge of some of the largest local government bodies in red state. Now, Democrats like Pureval are trying to work through bans and restrictions in the state to offer additional protections for residents who seek abortions — no matter how limited that might be.

Leaders in several cities — including in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Cincinnati; Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona — are talking openly about their options. Many are working to reduce the criminalization of those who seek or perform abortions. Some are exploring ways to limit city funds being used for related criminal investigations. Pureval and others offer greater protections to city employees.

“They’re doing the right thing because they are pro-choice champions,” said Heidi Sieck, co-founder and CEO of #VOTEPROCHOICE, an organization that works to elect people in local and state offices that support abortion and mobilize voters on the issue. “They realize that they have to step up and do this.”

Many leaders recognize that there are limitations to their ability to do certain things, especially if the state or district attorneys are determined and determined to pursue prosecutions related to abortion.

The Democrat-led Austin city council will vote this month on a resolution that would provide guidance for city law enforcement and lower the priority of investigations related to abortion. It would also recommend a ban on city funds being used for such investigations. Abortions after six weeks of pregnancy are currently allowedTexas will likely ban the practice in the near future.

Chito Vela, a Austin council member who co-introduced this resolution, stated that the Texas legislature might override the city council, preventing it and other cities creating city-specific abortion rules. It’s a tactic state lawmakers have turned to before, subverting city policies on police budgetingUse of plastic bags

“We have to be very careful about trying to kind of craft our local ordinances in such a way that they minimize conflict with the legislature, and at the very least make it harder for the legislature to try to stop us from implementing local will with regard to these issues,” he said.

Vela stated that local officials must step up, even if it is difficult to navigate the legal system.

“Don’t underestimate something like morale,” he said. “The people of Austin do not want to just sit there and see it happen. They want to do everything that they can to push back for abortion rights.”

​​In Phoenix, Mayor Kate Gallego said the city council plans to vote on a resolution stating that they are not allocating resources toward investigating or prosecuting cases involving abortion providers. The state is currently engaged in sorting out legal questions about which of its abortion restrictions is in place. Gallego explained that the police department can be requested to investigate both misdemeanors and felony cases.

“We are going to prioritize resources to focus on violent crime and not preventing women from getting health care,” she said.

Pureval in Cincinnati has pledged to provide travel reimbursement for any 6,000 city workers who require health services that are not available locally. He has also directed his administration to examine how to decriminalize abortion in the city and “to prioritize law enforcement resources to protect the health and safety of women and medical care providers.”

Pureval has asked his administration to provide a report within 30 days that explores the city’s options on decriminalization efforts. They may be limited. They may be limited in their jurisdiction. However, city prosecutors have jurisdiction over misdemeanors. But, abortion is a felony according to state law. In Cincinnati, the prosecutor who has jurisdiction over felonies is in has indicated he plans to pursue cases involving abortion.

Democratic leaders agree with the view that the role of state and county prosecutors is crucial in deciding what next. At least 90 district attorneys from more than 30 US states and territories, as well as other prosecutors from the District of Columbia, have signed. onto a letterIt is a commitment not to investigate anyone who seeks, assists in or provides abortions.

“The degree to which we can decriminalize the issue in Cincinnati really hinges upon our ability to deprioritize the issue of abortion using our police resources,” Pureval said.

Sieck added that it’s important for local officials to take action now because there is such confusion about what policies will be in place on the local and state level following the Supreme Court ruling. She called the dynamic “utter total legal chaos.”

“You’ve got all this complexity. Every single situation now is a patchwork of unknown,” she said.

In recent days, national Democrats have called on the public to vote for candidates who support abortion access — a form of action that may be complicated in states with gerrymandered state legislative and congressional mapsIt may be harder for Democrats flip seats. Pureval stated that it is up to voters to vote for policymakers who support access to abortion if they want to see the state’s rules change. He added that he’s reached out to the mayor of Chicago in an effort to address and support a potential influx of Cincinnati residents seeking services in the area.

“This is not a solve for this issue. This is our attempt to fight back as creatively and firmly as possible,” he said. “But unless there is federal legislation or unless your state legislature protects a woman’s right to choose, it is an uphill battle, no doubt about it.”

Gallego in Phoenix encouraged citizens to vote in both the August primary and November general elections. The state is currently electing a new governor and U.S. senator.

“All of those matter for the outcome related to women’s health care,” she said.

Vela said that his staff has been in contact with officials from other Texas cities, as well as outside the state, about enacting similar policies. The council approved a resolution last week, before the Supreme Court ruling, urging local police to make abortion investigations the “lowest possible priority.”

“There is strength in numbers, and the more cities and counties that speak up, the stronger our voice will be,” he said.