On Tuesday, Ohio’s voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing an individual right to abortion and other kinds of reproductive health care.
Issue One put Ohio at the center of the nation’s abortion battle after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Tuesday’s victory for abortion rights means that the state’s proposed ban on abortions after about six weeks cannot go into effect. Now, abortions will be allowed until viability, which was the standard under Roe. (Abortions after that time could only be considered if the treating physician considers the abortion “necessary to protect the pregnant woman's life or health.”)
The results, called by the Associated Press, are a huge win for abortion rights in one of the year's most closely-watched votes. The outcome doesn’t “change the law on the ground immediately but it will have huge implications for what comes next,” says Chris Devine, an associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton.
Democrats may now look to the use of the citizen ballot initiative in Ohio as a reliable tactic to protect abortion rights. 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. “We've had lots of abortion ballot initiatives in conservative states prevail but they've all been narrower questions,” says Mary Ruth Ziegler, law professor at UC Davis. Ohio is “a good litmus test for how far a ballot initiative strategy can go.”
“What it suggests is that voters in a lot of conservative states are not as far to the right on abortion as their state lawmakers,” Ziegler adds.
Gabriel Mann, a spokesperson for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, says the campaign was inspired by victories for abortion-rights advocates in Kentucky and Michigan. “It really showed that this is a midwestern value…that it’s possible to pass this here,” he says.
In the lead-up to the vote, Republicans attempted to make it more difficult to pass a constitutional amendment in the state. After that failed, abortion rights supporters took issue with how the Ohio Ballot Board summarized their proposed amendment. The text refers to an “unborn child,” instead of a “fetus”—leading them to argue that the wording was biased. But a majority of voters still voted in favor of the amendment on Tuesday, which now will enshrine in the state constitution “an individual right to one’s own reproductive medical treatment, including but not limited to abortion.”
The controversy may not be over. Conservatives fear the “including but not limited to” phrasing could open the door up to mean gender-affirming care. “Issue One is really a wolf in sheep's clothing,” says Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist.
Campaign organizers denied any attempt to address gender-affirming care. “Issue One is a single issue subject that directly addresses reproductive care,” says Mann.
Despite victory at the polls, abortion rights advocates are expecting legislative challenges about the amendment’s language. “That’s not going to end the fight,” Mann says.
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