Ohio moved one step closer to becoming the next big test case in the nation’s battle over abortion, after supporters of a measure that would ask voters to enshrine a right to abortion in the state constitution this week said they presented more than enough signatures to put. it in the ballot in November.
Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights said Wednesday it had collected about 710,000 signatures across all of the state’s 88 counties over the past 12 weeks. Under state law, the coalition needed 413,466 to qualify for the ballot. State election officials now have until July 25 to verify the signatures.
Abortion rights supporters are turning to ballot initiatives after last year’s ruling by the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, who for 50 years guaranteed the right to abortion in the federal Constitution. They are betting on polls that show public opinion is growing in support of some right to abortion, and oppose the bans and stricter laws that conservative state legislatures have enacted since the court’s decision.
Voters in six states, including conservative ones like Kentucky and Kansas, voted to protect or enshrine abortion rights in their constitutions in last year’s elections, and abortion advocates in about 10 other states are considering similar plans.
Anti-abortion advocates have become more reluctant to use ballot measures, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped pushing to enact tighter restrictions. In Iowa, where the State Supreme Court last month declined in a deadlocked vote to break a deadlock on a near-total ban on abortion, anti-abortion activists explored adding an amendment to the state constitution saying there is no right to abortion.
On Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, led a different approach, announcing that she ordered a special session of the Legislature to convene next week for the sole purpose of enacting another ban. The court’s decision, she said, “disregards the will of Iowa voters and lawmakers.”
In Ohio, at a press conference after delivering the truckload of signed petitions Wednesday, members of Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights expressed confidence in a November vote.
“We know from providing 50 years of abortion care that people from every corner of this state need this service,” said Sri Thakkilapati, founder of the group and the executive director of the Cleveland abortion clinic Preterm. “And we know from collecting signatures in every single one of Ohio’s 88 counties that people support this right.”
But the November ballot measure isn’t the only one that will carry big stakes for the future of abortion in Ohio. Republicans who oppose abortion rights — and who control the state’s General Assembly — proposed another measure that would make it harder to pass the ballot measure.
Republican leaders in the legislature put a measure on the primary ballot in August that would raise the threshold needed to pass any ballot measure amending the state Constitution to 60 percent, a simple majority. They aimed that measure — which would require 50 percent of voters to pass — directly at the abortion question. At the beginning of this year the same Republicans passed a law eliminating almost all August elections, arguing that they are expensive and have such low turnout that they are undemocratic.
While summer elections tend to have low turnout and favor those who sponsor the measures, Republicans in Kansas, who tried to abort a right from the state Constitution last August, failed, and an unexpectedly high proportion of residents turned out to reject it. The August measure in Ohio, however, will not specifically mention abortion, and it is not clear that abortion rights advocates will be able to galvanize their supporters as effectively as their counterparts did in Kansas.
Michael Gonidakis, the longtime president of Ohio Right to Life, questioned the significance of the signatures delivered by abortion rights supporters this week. He noted that a group that attempted a criminal justice amendment in 2018 submitted more than 730,000 signatures, but less than half were declared valid. And 63 percent of voters ultimately rejected the proposal.
The Republican legislature in Ohio passed a law in 2019 banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy – before many women know they are pregnant – with exceptions to save the mother’s life or prevent “serious impairment” of bodily function, but no. due to rape or incest. That law went into effect after Roe was overturned, but a district court judge put a hold on it, saying the Ohio constitution provided a “fundamental right to abortion,” in part because it gave equal protection and benefit to women. That leaves abortion legal up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.
The ballot initiative would amend the Constitution to add “the Right to Reproductive Freedom with Health and Safety Protections Amendment,” which in many ways resembles the protections established by Roe.
It would establish a right to abortion but allow the procedure to be banned once the fetus is viable outside the womb, generally around 23 or 24 weeks. It would allow restrictions on abortion before viability as long as those laws use the “least restrictive means to advance the health of the individual” according to “widely accepted and evidence-based standards of care.”
In a statement, the leaders of Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights stated that the amendment “would ensure that patients and doctors, not government extremists, are in control of making private medical decisions.”
But in a flurry of statements and posts on Twitter, anti-abortion groups have hinted that they intend to argue that the amendment is extreme.
The anti-abortion coalition Protect Women Ohio insisted that signature gatherers lied about the amendment, and argued that it would “deprive parents of their rights, allow minors to undergo sex-change operations without their parents’ knowledge or consent and allow painful abortion on demand every nine months, ” despite the language allowing the state to prohibit abortions after viability.
In Public Religion Research Institute survey in December, 66 percent of Ohio residents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, up from 56 percent in December 2018.