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Ohio Abortion Foes Are Making the Fight About Gender Transition and Drag Queens

Ohio Abortion Foes Are Making the Fight About Gender Transition and Drag Queens

Anti-abortion demonstration

They claim that a state constitutional amendment enshrining abortion rights would allow minors to receive gender-affirming procedures without parental consent.

Opponents of an amendment to write reproductive rights into the Ohio constitution are making it about gender-affirming care and drag queens — a tactic that backers of the measure say is not only transphobic but misleading.

The amendment includes this language: “Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.” It would ban state interference with these decisions unless there is a compelling state interest and would allow a ban on abortion after fetal viability, with exceptions if continuing the pregnancy would endanger the patient’s life or health.

Reproductive rights groups are trying to place the amendment on November’s ballot; they have submitted more than 700,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office, which is in the process of verifying them.

Opponents of abortion rights, who are usually against LGBTQ+ rights as well, are using the “not limited to” wording to claim that the amendment would allow minors to “get a sex change” without parental permission, as an ad from anti-abortion group Protect Women Ohio states. It began running ads against the amendment in March and will continue doing so into November, spending $25 million, NBC News reports.

The group is also behind a ballot measure, Issue 1, to go before voters in a special election August 8, that would make it harder to amend the state constitution. It would require approval by 60 percent of voters, rather than the simple majority under current law, to pass any constitutional amendment, including the reproductive rights amendment if it makes the ballot in November.

Protect Women Ohio’s first ad on this measure, released a week ago, uses images of a gender unicorn and drag queen story hours while claiming that “out-of-state special interests that put trans ideology in classrooms and encourage sex changes for kids are hiding behind slick ads.” It concludes, “You can keep this madness out of Ohio classrooms and protect your rights as a parent by voting yes on August 8th.” The ad cost the group $2 million, Truthout reports.


The reproductive rights amendment actually includes nothing about gender-affirming care or parental rights. Anti-abortion activists’ tactics have drawn condemnation from reproductive rights advocates, including Gillian Branstetter, communications strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project and LGBTQ and HIV Project.

“When I say transphobia is a threat to democracy, I mean anti-abortion activists are using drag queens to scare Ohio voters into making it harder to amend the state [Constitution] and protect abortion rights,” she wrote on Twitter.

The anti-abortion groups are “pushing a false narrative about our campaign,” Kellie Copeland, treasurer of Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, one of the organizations behind the amendment, told NBC. “None of the allegations being claimed in these advertisements are true. Our reproductive freedom amendment does not impact care related to gender.”

Jonathan Entin, professor emeritus at the Case Western Reserve School of Law in Cleveland, told NBC this argument against the reproductive rights amendment is not “legally persuasive.” He explained, “Gender-affirming care is a big stretch from the items that are in the list.”

Opponents are trying to take advantage of the fact that gender-affirming care for minors has less public support than abortion rights, he and others said. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade a year ago, therefore allowing states to ban or severely restrict abortion, six states have put measures before voters to write the right to abortion into their constitutions, and all have passed, NBC notes.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Ohio are trying to add their state to the list of those banning or restricting gender-affirming care for trans minors — 21 so far. A bill to do this, which would also bar trans female athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s school sports, passed the Ohio House in June and is pending in the state Senate. Conservatives are further seeking to criminalize drag performers in the state.

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