Ohio voters will decide on abortion access in November ballot

A proposed amendment will set up a volatile and expensive fight rife with emotional messaging and competing factual claims.
Boxes of signatures are delivered to Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose's office.
Posted at 4:53 PM, Jul 25, 2023

Ohio voters will have the opportunity this fall to decide whether to guarantee access to abortion in the state, setting up a volatile fight rife with emotional messaging and competing factual claims.

State officials said Tuesday that a ballot measure to change the state constitution had enough signatures. It would establish "a fundamental right to reproductive freedom" with "reasonable limits." In language similar to a constitutional amendment that Michigan voters approved last November, it would require restrictions imposed past a fetus' viability outside the womb, which is typically around the 24th week of pregnancy and was the standard under Roe v. Wade, to be based on evidence of patient health and safety benefits.

"Every person deserves respect, dignity, and the right to make reproductive health care decisions, including those related to their own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion free from government interference," Lauren Blauvelt and Dr. Lauren Beene, executive committee members for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose determined that Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights submitted nearly 496,000 valid signatures, more than the 413,446 needed to put the question before voters on Nov. 7. The coalition submitted more than 700,000 signatures in total.

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It remains to be seen what percentage of the Ohio electorate needs to support the amendment for it to pass. That will depend on the outcome of an Aug. 8 special election called by Statehouse Republicans to determine whether to raise the threshold for passing future constitutional changes from a simple majority in place since 1912 to a 60% supermajority. 

AP VoteCast polling last year found 59% of Ohio voters say abortion should generally be legal.

The August ballot measure also would eliminate the 10-day curing period during which citizen-led campaigns may submit additional signatures if they fall short the first time, and increase the number of counties where signatures must be collected from 44 to all 88. But those provisions would come too late to impact the abortion issue, which has already faced both legal and administrative hurdles to now be poised for a vote.

Abortion remains legal in the state up to 20 weeks' gestation, under a judge’s order issued in a lawsuit challenging a ban once cardiac activity can be detected, or around six weeks into pregnancy, which is before many women even know they are pregnant. 

The Republican attorney general has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn the stay. Ohio's anti-abortion network has signaled it is ready to fight the November proposal, vowing a vehement and well-funded opposition campaign.

Opponents of the measure have advanced an argument that, because the amendment protects "individuals," it has the potential to trump Ohio's parental consent laws around abortion. The proposal's authors reject that legal theory. 

Opponents have also suggested in advertisements that the measure would open the door to gender transitioning surgeries for all ages, matching national political messaging that experts deem misleading. Amy Natoce, press secretary for Protect Ohio Women, the official opposition campaign, said the group will "continue to shine a light on the ACLU's disastrous agenda until it is defeated in November." 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is on the November campaign's executive committee and serves as part of Ohioans United For Reproductive Rights' legal team.

"Ohioans are waking up to the dangers of the ACLU's anti-parent amendment and they are terrified - and rightfully so," Natoce said in a statement.

The proposal joins others around the nation that have been motivated by last summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the nationwide right to abortion it once protected, leaving abortion policy to individual states.In the first statewide test following that decision, Kansas voters resoundingly protected abortion rights last August. 

In November, five other states — California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont - either enshrined abortion rights in their constitutions or rejected constitutional restrictions on the procedure.