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Ohio Voters Reject Measure That Could Have Made Passing Abortion Rights Harder

Ohio Voters Reject Measure That Could Have Made Passing Abortion Rights Harder

Abortion rights demonstrators in Ohio

The ballot measure would have made it more difficult to amend the state's constitution, where voters want to enshrine reproductive rights in November.

Ohio voters Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have made it harder to amend the state constitution — including the addition of a reproductive rights measure that will go before voters in November.

Issue 1, being voted on in Tuesday's special election today, asked voters to raise the threshold for amending the Ohio constitution from a simple majority to 60 percent. Local and national media are reporting that Issue 1 has failed; with about half of precincts reporting, 57 percent of the vote was against it, according to the Associated Press.

"Tonight, Ohioans claimed a victory over out-of-touch, corrupt politicians who bet against majority rule, who bet against democracy," Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters said at a gathering Tuesday night in Columbus, The Columbus Dispatch reports. "Tonight, Ohioans everywhere have claimed a victory for the kind of state we want to see."

The Human Rights Campaign had endorsed the fight against Issue 1 and issued a celebratory statement. “Every Ohioan deserves to have their voices heard and their votes counted," said HRC President Kelley Robinson. "Today’s victory was essential to ensuring that LGBTQ+ rights, abortion rights, and, more broadly, Ohioans’ rights and values are reflected in how their state is governed. Voters rejected politicians’ lies and their attempt to attack LGBTQ+ youth for political gain. Let this be a message to others who try that same playbook. Thank you to the organizers of the No On Issue 1 campaign and the voters who showed up to keep the power in the hands of Ohio’s people.”The fact that the special election for Issue 1 took place was due to the existence of the reproductive choice initiative, which will be on the November ballot. The Republican-led Ohio legislature had enacted a law in January that eliminated August special elections, with lawmakers saying they were too expensive to conduct and had little voter turnout.

But in May, legislators did a turnabout. They adopted a joint resolution approving the 60 percent measure and putting it before voters in August. Also, to place future constitutional amendments on the ballot, Issue 1 stated that supporters would have had to get signatures from 5 percent of the voters in every county in the state instead of half the counties, as currently required. But voters soundly rejected Issue 1.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, had often told reporters that raising the bar for amending the constitution had nothing to do with the proposed reproductive rights vote. But in June, Ohio media obtained a video of him speaking to a Republican gathering the previous month saying it had everything to do with that.

"It’s 100 percent about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” the video shows him saying at a Lincoln Day event. The video came through a news service called Scanner Media.

The amendment that will go before voters in November 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. State officials announced two weeks ago that the amendment had received enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturnedRoe v. Wade and its national guarantee of abortion rights last year, therefore allowing states to ban or severely restrict the procedure, Ohio began enforcing a law it had passed in 2019 that banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, with an exception if the pregnancy is life-threatening. A court has now blocked the state from enforcing it, but reproductive rights supporters point out that writing these rights into the state constitution remains crucial.

Opponents of the reproductive rights amendment have run ads linking it to gender-affirming health care for youth, even though it doesn’t mention the subject at all. They have latched on to the “not limited to” language.

Protect Women Ohio, the primary group opposing the reproductive rights measure, released an ad in July using 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,” referring to the special election on the now-defeated Issue 1. Civil rights organizations called this approach both misleading and transphobic.

Ohio has not banned gender-affirming care for trans minors, as many states have, but the state House of Representatives has passed a bill to this effect, and it's awaiting Senate action. The bill also would bar trans student athletes playing on the school teams comporting with their gender identity. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed an anti-LGBTQ+ classroom censorship bill that's awaiting action in the House.

A coalition of civil rights groups is backing the reproductive rights amendment, while No on Issue 1: One Person One Vote campaigned against the Issue 1. “The ads by One Person One Vote focus mainly on the alleged hypocrisy of Republicans and highlight LaRose’s comments admitting the August measure was designed to make it harder to enshrine abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution,” NBC News reports.

A poll of registered Ohio voters by USA Today and Suffolk University, released last month, found that 57 percent of respondents opposed Issue 1, 26 percent supported it, and 17 percent were undecided. For the reproductive rights measure, polls have indicated about 59 percent of Ohio voters support it.

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