By FOCUS, a Leonine Business
Ohio Issue 1: A Path to the Ballot and Its Implications for Abortion in the U.S.
The passage of Ohio’s Issue 1, a constitutional amendment safeguarding abortion and reproductive rights, marks a significant milestone in the ongoing national discourse on reproductive health in the aftermath of the Dobbs Supreme Court decision. This achievement, however, was hard-won. The path to securing a place on the ballot was marked by numerous challenges, including legal disputes over its wording, political resistance and intense public discourse.
The Journey to the Ballot
On July 5, over 700,000 petition signatures were submitted by Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, far exceeding the state’s signature requirement to secure a proposed amendment on the November ballot. These signatures, certified by local county boards on July 20, reflected strong public support for the amendment.
In an attempt to discourage voters from approving the amendment, the anti-abortion group Protect Women Ohio released an ad on July 20 that dishonestly claimed the proposed amendment would also allow teens to receive gender-affirming surgeries without parental consent. The ad said, “these special interest groups encourage minors to get sex changes and want to trash parental rights,” along with attacking the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and URGE.
Controversy arose when the Ohio Ballot Board approved the ballot language that had been revised by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose on August 24, changing “fetus” to “unborn child,” a move criticized for being misleading. Additionally, Secretary of State LaRose labeled the abortion question Issue 1, the same as the wildly unpopular August ballot measure to limit citizen’s ability to amend the Ohio Constitution. Due to the confusion this caused voters, HB 271 was introduced by Rep. Adam Mathews, R-Lebanon, to specify that state questions and issues appearing on ballots must be numbered consecutively based on the previous election. The bill was last heard in the House State and Local Government Committee on October 31 and remains pending.
Legal Challenges and Supreme Court Ruling
Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on August 29 contesting the omission of the term “fetus” in the ballot description. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on September 20 that only part of the language needed revision, allowing the term “unborn child” to remain, but mandating a change from “citizens of the State” to “the state of Ohio.”
Opposition and misinformation
In September, the Ohio Senate launched the “On The Record” blog, which focused on criticizing Issue 1 in the weeks leading up to the election. The blog has featured articles with contentious claims, such as the amendment permitting procedures banned since 2003 and framing abortion rates among Black women in a way that suggests malign influence by the abortion industry.
Then, on October 11 the Ohio Senate adopted SR 215, urging a vote against Issue 1. The resolution outlined potential hazards of the amendment, claiming it would establish abortion on demand at any pregnancy stage and eliminate various restrictions. It also highlighted concerns about minors getting abortions without parental knowledge or consent, echoing the public opposition voiced by religious groups and anti-abortion rights organizations, including Ohio Right to Life.
An advertisement by Protect Women Ohio showcases both Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and First Lady Fran DeWine warning against the measure’s implications of unbridled abortion access. However, the topic of parental rights does not appear in Issue 1. There is no mention of denying any rights to parents in the process of enshrining reproductive rights like abortion, contraception, miscarriage care and infertility treatment into the Ohio Constitution. The advertisement began airing in the state on October 11, the day early voting began for the general election.
Additionally, a notable move by Secretary of State LaRose involved the cancellation of 26,666 voter registrations, raising concerns among Democrats about the timing with respect to the significant constitutional amendment on the ballot. While a lawyer for LaRose stated the cancellations were in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), both state and federal laws caution against modifying registrations close to an election.
Issue 1’s Passage and Legislative Responses
Ohio voters ultimately passed Issue 1 on November 7, with 56.62 percent support. However, Republican state legislators are already exploring ways to limit judicial review of cases linked to this amendment. A press release on November 9 from four Republican representatives announced plans to restrict judiciary power over this ballot initiative, citing concerns about
“mischief by pro-abortion courts” and making unverified claims about foreign election interference.
What This Means for Abortion in the U.S.
The successful passage of Ohio Issue 1 underscores the extent to which some Republican officials may attempt to counter citizen-led initiatives aimed at safeguarding abortion rights. This development sheds light on the enduring conflict over language and the multitude of legal and political hurdles confronting abortion-rights advocates. The trajectory of Issue 1, from inception to triumph, not only exemplifies the intricate challenges posed by GOP opposition but also signals the potential landscape for the 2024 elections, where abortion amendments have already been filed in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New York and South Dakota. FOCUS will continue to monitor developments on this issue.