CINCINNATI — The City of Cincinnati plans to change its employee medical coverage to ensure staff has access to abortions and other reproductive health care even if the state of Ohio outlaws them.

What You Need To Know

  • In response to Roe v. Wade being overturned, the City of Cincinnati pledged to reimburse staff for travel costs related to needing to go out of state for an abortion

  • City Council also plans to change a longstanding policy that didn’t allow the city to cover elective abortions as part of its employee health plan

  • Ohio’s attorney general said the state’s long-contested “Heartbeat Law” has gone into effect; the law bans abortions as soon as there’s a fetal heartbeat

  • Cincinnati’s administration will also explore ways for decriminalizing abortions in Cincinnati

​Mayor Aftab Pureval joined other city leaders on the steps of City Hall Monday morning to announce new legislation to repeal a 2001 ordinance that restricts the city’s ability to cover elective abortions under its health plan. 

City Council will vote on the issue Wednesday. Assuming it passes, and it likely will do so overwhelmingly, interim City Manager John Curp will change the city’s health insurance plan to include abortion-related health services, Pureval said.

Eight of nine members of City Council attended the press conference alongside Kersha Deibel, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio.

Liz Keating, the council’s lone Republican, was not present.

“Cincinnati and its local government profoundly, unabashedly, and unequivocally support a woman’s right to choose – and we will do everything in our power to preserve that right,” Pureval said.

The move follows the United States Supreme Court on Friday overturning Roe v. Wade, ending nearly 50 years of the federally protected right to have an abortion. The decision now leaves the legality of abortions up to individual states.

The same day as the Supreme Court ruling, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost asked a federal judge to lift an injunction against the state’s so-called “Heartbeat Law,” which makes abortion illegal after the detection of a fetus heartbeat. That usually develops between five or six weeks after conception, sometimes before a person realizes they’re pregnant.

A tweet from state Attorney General indicated Ohio's so-called "Heartbeat Law" is now in effect.
A tweet from state Attorney General indicated Ohio's so-called "Heartbeat Law" is now in effect.

The law passed in 2019 but had never gone into effect because of legal challenges related to Roe. That changed Friday night when a federal court lifted an injunction against the law, Yost wrote in a tweet.

Abortions are still legal in Ohio but they’re now much more restricted. Like other abortion providers, Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio is evaluating its next legal steps, per a spokesperson for the organization.

Meeka Owens, one of the council members in attendance Monday, called the situation personal.

“This is about choice, this is about autonomy, this is about self-determining one’s life choices,” she said. “I’ve known people who have gotten abortions. I personally had to make that choice in my life too, and so I know what the power of choosing means. We’re going to keep fighting to make sure that we are protecting lives.”

As part of its plan, the Cincinnati government will institute a travel reimbursement policy to help employees cover costs associated with travel to receive health care services not available within 150 miles and not covered under the city’s health plan.

The move is similar to policies recently enacted by corporations and companies, including Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. 

The city’s policy won’t just cover abortion-related services though, Pureval said. He added that the goal is to ensure employees have access to any eligible medical care that isn’t available here, regardless of future statewide laws.

“Residents in Cincinnati will not have easy access to the medical support they need, putting lives at risk — and this will disproportionately harm Black and Brown women, as well as those without the resources to travel long-distances for care,” Pureval said.

The first-term mayor mentioned these moves are not just about doing the right thing for employees, but they’ll help Cincinnati continue to grow.

“History will judge those who have had a hand in this. And as we work to grow our city… companies will be watching and making decisions based on what states respect women,” he added.

The city administration is also going to provide a report within 30 days exploring the opportunity to decriminalize abortion in Cincinnati. 

“I have asked the administration to prioritize police sources to protect the health and safety of women and medical care providers,” Pureval said. “It’s not a good use of law enforcement resources to investigate and prosecute doctors and women who are engaged in personal health care decisions.”

On Friday, Gov. Mike DeWine said his administration is investing more than $1 billion to provide prenatal care, parenting classes, mentoring, education and nutrition assistance to pregnant mothers and their families. He calls it the "Bold Beginning" initiative.

DeWine asked the state’s health and human services agencies to come up with a plan to identify and help vulnerable mothers. He also plans to work with state lawmakers and local communities to improve pre- and post-natal care, increase maternal depression screenings and expand other mental health resources for those who are pregnant.

Increasing awareness about adoption will also be a major focus area, DeWine said. Another will be improving Ohio’s infant and maternal mortality rates, especially among African American mothers and babies.

In 2019, the Black infant mortality rate (14.3 deaths per 1,000 live births) was nearly three times higher than the white infant mortality rate (5.1), according to data from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. Over the past decade, Ohio’s Black-white infant mortality disparity increased by 26%, from 2.2 in 2009 to 2.8 in 2019.

“I believe that all Ohioans want this state to be the most pro-family, pro-child state in the country, and we are making great progress in creating an environment here in Ohio where families and children can thrive and live up to their full potential,” DeWine said. “But there is so much more to be done – so much work that remains.” That’s not enough, though, Pureval said. He said the Supreme Court, Congress and Ohio’s legislature “have failed us.”

“It is not my job to make it easier for the state legislature and governor to drag women back to the ‘50s and strip their rights,” Pureval said. “It’s my job to make that harder. And with today’s announcements, we are fighting back.”