In a resounding victory for supporters of abortion rights, Ohio voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected Issue 1, a GOP-backed ballot measure that would have made it considerably harder to amend the state constitution.
Abortion rights advocates celebrated the defeat of Issue 1, which means Ohio keeps its longstanding rule on citizen-led state constitutional amendments: a simple majority of state voters can change the constitution through a ballot measure.
The vote sets the stage for a battle over reproductive rights in November, when Ohioans will decide if the state constitution should guarantee a right to abortion.
“Ohioans understood that if we didn’t stop this amendment, we’d never be able to directly go to the voters again, on any issue,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio.
Republicans billed this week’s election, and Issue 1, as a means of protecting Ohio from out-of-state special interests. But the state GOP previously eliminated August special elections because of the high cost to taxpayers and comparatively low voter turnout. The decision to revive special elections, which cost Ohio roughly $20m, appeared to be a transparent attempt to thwart the passage of the abortion rights amendment this November.
“The Lord hates a hypocrite, and so do voters,” Copeland said.
Millions of Ohio voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s election, with an estimated 57% choosing to reject Issue 1, according to the Associated Press.
“Our opponents made a real tactical error by bringing this up in August in a way that’s so intellectually offensive to Ohioans, creating a special election right after you ban special elections,” Copeland said.
The record-high turnout signaled the enduring power of abortion rights as an issue that will energize voters, even in a hastily-planned summer election. The Ohio results mirror last year’s midterms, when voters in Michigan, Kentucky, Kansas and California all opted to protect abortion access.
Despite Tuesday’s setback, abortion opponents in Ohio vowed to continue the fight against November’s ballot initiative.
Peter Range, Ohio Right to Life’s CEO, said in a statement on Wednesday that “this result will not deter us from continuing to fight the ACLU’s extreme agenda this November”.
But supporters of abortion access celebrated Tuesday’s vote, welcoming the results as a hint of what to expect in November.
“Ohioans made it clear in the conversations we had canvassing that they do not want our rights, voting rights or bodily autonomy, to be stripped from us,” said Jordyn Close, deputy director of the Ohio Women’s Alliance.
She remained cautiously optimistic on Tuesday evening.
As the night wore on and results started rolling in, Close and a team of volunteers with the Ohio Women’s Alliance prepared care packages for abortion patients across the state. They kept one eye on the news while packing goodie bags with tea, snacks, warm socks and menstrual pads.
“We know Ohio voters don’t want this initiative to go through, but turnout for special elections is always a toss up,” she said.
Close breathed a sigh of relief when the results were announced on Tuesday night.
Many opponents of Issue 1 worried that Ohio voters could be swayed by outside interests. Richard Uihlein, a GOP megadonor based in Illinois, spent millions trying to get the measure passed.
“I am just so incredibly relieved that Ohio voters saw through the con,” said Maria Phillis, an OhioOB-GYN who is training to specialize in high-risk pregnancies.
Following the US supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade last summer, a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy – before most people know they are pregnant – took effect in Ohio. That six-week ban was then put on hold by an Ohio judge in October 2022, restoring abortion rights in the state up to 22 weeks of pregnancy until further notice.
When Republican lawmakers approved Issue 1 last spring, Phillis became nervous.
“They could try to bring back the six-week ban, or something even stricter,” she told the Guardian weeks before the August special election.
Phillis and other high-risk OB-GYNs sometimes have to terminate a pregnancy to save the life of the mother. The six-week ban created a narrow “exception” for cases involving a medical emergency, but the vague language sowed widespread confusion and fear among doctors across Ohio.
“The way the exception was written, it doesn’t specify when you can legally intervene to help a pregnant patient,” Phillis said. “Do you have to wait for them to become septic or sick?”
Phillis feared that, without a state constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights, Ohio Republicans would reinstate penalties for doctors who perform the procedure.
If the six-week ban returns to Ohio, Phillis would “have to consider” relocating to a state that is less hostile to abortion. When the law was in effect, Phillis and her colleagues became consumed by anxiety.
If one overzealous prosecutor decided that Phillis misinterpreted the six-week ban’s language on medical exceptions, her life and professional career as a doctor could be upended.
“But to see these results, where we won, and not by a little bit, it really feels like the people of Ohio have our backs,” said Phillis. “It feels like I can plan for a life here without worrying that I might have to uproot and move in the next year or two.”
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/aug/09/ohio-issue-1-abortion-rights-win ‘Ohio saw through the con’: abortion rights advocates celebrate Issue 1 result | Ohio