Cleveland City Councilwomen Stand United Against Abortion Restrictions

Letter proposes solutions to improve access and funding for Clevelanders seeking abortion care

A nurse holds a sign in support of abortion access at a Planned Parenthood rally in Downtown Cincinnati on May 15, 2022. - Madeline Fening
Madeline Fening
A nurse holds a sign in support of abortion access at a Planned Parenthood rally in Downtown Cincinnati on May 15, 2022.

The five elected women of Cleveland City Council issued a joint statement Tuesday evening standing united against the "disastrous" Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and advocating for local policy solutions to aid and protect Clevelanders seeking abortions. 

Councilwomen Deborah Gray (Ward 4), Stephanie Howse (Ward 7), Rebecca Maurer (Ward 12), Jasmin Santana (Ward 14), and Jenny Spencer (Ward 15) signed their names to the document, which was meant to stand apart from a previous statement by Council President Blaine Griffin voicing opposition to the decision on behalf of the body as a whole.

The letter conceded that abortion laws are largely controlled by the state — in Ohio, a six-week abortion ban went into effect mere hours after the Supreme Court's decision — but that the city nevertheless had some power to implement short-term and long-term solutions.

In Cincinnati, for example, Mayor Aftab Pureval announced Tuesday that the city would overturn a 2001 ordinance that restricted coverage of abortions in its city health insurance plans. Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb had a meeting scheduled Tuesday afternoon discussing similar possibilities in Cleveland.

Potentially modifying the city of Cleveland's health insurance plans, managed by Medical Mutual and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, to ensure that abortion services are available, was the first of eight suggestions in the letter.

The second was coordinating with local prosecutors and police on policies of non-enforcement. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mike O'Malley has already signed onto a national letter vowing not to criminalize abortions, and the women of council agreed that limited law enforcement resources should be devoted to fighting issues like gun violence in neighborhoods, "not enforcing restrictions on healthcare rights."

One of the eight suggestions referenced increased travel costs, now that those seeking abortions after six weeks will be forced to venture out of state to receive care. The letter advocated "expanding travel stipends and reimbursements" for these expenses. In that vein, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones voiced her support this week for a local bill that would designate $1.5 million in ARPA dollars to a "Reproductive Equity Fund," disbursed to organizations that would cover incidental costs related to abortion care.

(Blaine Griffin recently unveiled the loose contours of his plan to spend the remaining $53 million from the city's first batch of ARPA dollars. Council caucused on the plan Monday. There certainly appears to be enough wiggle room to create a similar fund in Cleveland.)

Other suggestions in the letter were less targeted at specific policies — "remain vigilant," "remind citizens that they are powerful" — but all affirmed the councilwomen's commitment to issues of reproductive justice and to investigating ways to fund and support abortion care.

"The restrictions on abortion access will fundamentally alter the rights of all who can get pregnant within the City of Cleveland," the letter read. "It strips our population of their bodily autonomy and of fundamental healthcare services. It further impacts maternal health in a city where our women, and Black women in particular, are suffering. It harms our families in a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the county."

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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