DemDaily: Ohio’s Ballot Battles

July 11, 2023

One of the most critical initiatives of 2023 goes to the ballot in Ohio on August 8, with pivotal consequences for the future of reproductive rights in the Midwest battleground state.

The special election referendum, sent to Ohio voters by the state's Republican-controlled legislature, would raise the requirement to amend the Ohio Constitution from a simple majority to 60%. The amendment, Ohio Issue 1, is widely regarded as an effort to thwart passage of an abortion-rights citizen initiative that will be on the ballot in November.

Ohio Issue 1, the 60% Vote Requirement to Approve Constitutional Amendments Measure, is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. If approved, Issue 1 would raise the threshold for passing future constitutional changes from a simple majority (in place since 1912) to a 60% supermajority.

In April 2019, Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine signed the Human Rights and Heartbeat Protection Act, which bans abortion after any embryonic cardiac activity can be detected -- usually between five and six weeks into the pregnancy -- with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The law also imposes felony criminal liability on anyone who performs, aids or abets an abortion after embryonic cardiac activity can be detected.

A preliminary injunction had blocked state officials from enforcing the law, but that was lifted after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, allowing the Heartbeat Law to take full-effect on June 24, 2022. On September 14, however, the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas issued a temporary restraining order on the law, and on October 7, 2022 granted a preliminary injunction, allowing abortion up to 22 weeks of pregnancy to remain legal while litigation continues.

In the interim, two groups, Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, launched a successful citizen petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2023 which would guarantee reproductive freedoms in Ohio.

The Ohio Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative would establish a state constitutional right to "make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions," including decisions about abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care, and continuing pregnancy.

The amendment would permit the state to restrict abortion after fetal viability, but allows for exceptions when, in the judgment of a physician, an abortion "is necessary to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health."

This ballot amendment is similar to one Michigan voters passed with 56.6% of the vote last November.

According to a June 20-23, 2023 Scribbs/YouGov poll of likely voters, 58% of Ohioans support a constitutional amendment "to protect an individual's right to make their own decisions about issues like abortion, contraception and fertility treatment," compared to 23% opposed and 20% undecided (MOE: ± 5.95%)

In response to the amendment, Ohio Republicans, who hold a supermajority in the state legislature, introduced Ohio 1 and pushed for the measure's August special election date.

If proponents of the referendum are successful in raising the threshold for passage of a constitutional amendment from 50% to 60%, the impact could be devastating to future civil and human rights amendments in Ohio.

At just four weeks out, interest groups are already pouring millions of dollars into the referendum, which is widely expected to be among the most expensive initiatives in the Buckeye State's history.

Early Voting began in Ohio began today!
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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Ballotpedia, AP, CNN, OH AG, 19thnews, ACLUOhio

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