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In Victory for Abortion-Rights Advocates, Ohio Rejects Effort to Make it Harder to Change State Constitution

3 minute read

Ohioans voted against a measure that would have made it harder to change the state constitution on Tuesday, securing a crucial victory for abortion-rights advocates before a fall vote.

Issue 1 failed in Tuesday’s special election, according to the Associated Press. There was huge turnout for a special election: nearly 700,000 advance ballots were cast in the early voting period, according to the AP, which is more than double the early vote in the previous primaries in 2022 and 2018.

The vote on Issue 1 garnered national interest and extra significance because Democrats are trying to enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution through a November citizen-led ballot initiative. Republicans, in turn, proposed Issue 1, which would have increased the voting threshold from a simple majority to 60 percent of the vote. Failing to pass Issue 1 on Tuesday could be decisive for the vote this fall, which will still be decided by a simple majority: A USA Today/Suffolk University survey that polled 500 likely voters in July found that 58% supported a constitutional amendment that would add abortion protections.

Read More: What to Know About Ohio's Abortion Ballot Initiative

The result in Ohio could have national implications. While it was a resounding defeat for Republicans, conservatives in other states are still likely to try to limit the power of ballot initiatives, experts say. After the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion last year, many abortion-rights advocates turned to ballot initiatives to protect the procedure as state legislatures enacted bans around the country. Six states had abortion-related measures on the ballot in 2022. All six were victories for abortion-rights advocates, including those in more conservative states such as Kansas and Kentucky.

Ohio isn’t the first state where Republicans tried to make it more difficult to pass these measures in response. Republicans in Missouri tried and failed to approve a similar measure earlier this year. North Dakota’s Republicans are also planning to increase the voting threshold. “We've seen more and more states turning to the initiative process to ensure abortion rights and, as that has happened, we've also seen the ascendance of these efforts to limit the force of direct democracy,” says Melissa Murray, law professor at New York University.

Ohio’s Issue 1 also included other restrictions, such as requiring signatures to be collected in all 88 counties, instead of 44, and eliminating the 10-day grace period to ensure all signatures are valid.

Republicans have stressed that Issue 1 was intended to keep special interests out of Ohio politics. Millions of out-of-state dollars funneled in from supporters and critics of Issue 1. “We have a constitution that is very easy to amend compared to the rest of the country and out of state special interest groups know that, so they come into our state, often with these unlimited national dollars,” says Amy Natoce, press secretary of Protect Women Ohio, which opposes the November abortion ballot initiative.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose previously said that the proposed procedural change was about "keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution." He later told the AP his comments were taken out of context.

Abortion remains legal in Ohio until fetal viability, around 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. The proposed constitutional amendment would preserve that right. An abortion ban that applies after roughly six weeks of pregnancy has been temporarily blocked by courts and is being appealed. 

While abortion-rights groups and progressive politicians cheered Tuesday’s result, the failure of Issue 1 may be a short-lived victory for Democrats, Murray warns, if other states follow suit: “Republicans will be counting on people getting tired and not keeping up,” she says.

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Write to Sanya Mansoor at sanya.mansoor@time.com