Abortion rights advocates win major victory in Ohio as voters reject GOP plan to thwart ballot measure

Proposal making it harder to change state’s constitution fails, teeing up an upcoming vote on a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 09 August 2023 06:56 BST
Related: DeSantis says he will ‘support pro-life policies’ if elected

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Ohio voters have resoundingly rejected a measure that would make it more difficult to amend the state’s constitution – a proposal Republican officials bluntly admitted was an effort to kneecap an upcoming ballot measure asking voters to enshrine a right to abortion care.

That proposal has failed, with roughly 65 per cent of the vote tallied by Tuesday night after polls had closed, according to projections from the Associated Press.

Issue 1 would have required that proposed amendments to the state constitution receive at least 60 per cent of the vote, raising the threshold substantially from a current simple majority vote. It also would have increased the minimum number of petition signatures that groups would have to collect before qualifying an issue to get on a ballot.

The proposal’s failure means that a November referendum on abortion rights will need only 50 per cent of the vote to enshrine those protections into the state’s constitution, a major victory for abortion rights advocates and democratic campaigns in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v Wade.

President Joe Biden called the measure a “blatant attempt to weaken voters’ voices and further erode the freedom of women to make their own health care decisions”.

“Ohioans spoke loud and clear, and tonight democracy won,” he said in a statement.

Within the last year, voters have also turned out in record numbers to protect abortion rights in California, Kansas, Michigan and Vermont, underscoring the overwhelming unpopularity of the Supreme Court’s decision and the volatile landscape for reproductive healthcare in its wake, while scrambling anti-abortion campaigns from Republican officials were emboldened by the ruling.

Issue 1 campaign Protect Our Constitution was largely supported by GOP mega-donor and Illinois businessman Richard Uihlein.

A coalition of abortion rights, civil rights and democratic advocacy groups joined a No On Issue 1 campaign.

“Tonight was a major victory for democracy in Ohio,” the group said in a statement following projections of the measure’s defeat. “The majority still rules in Ohio, and the people’s power has been preserved – because Ohio voters showed up and overwhelmingly voted down Issue 1.”

Ohio voters saw the proposal for “what it was: a deceptive power grab designed to silence their voices and diminish their voting power,” the group said.

Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, said the results mark an “incredibly profound and inspiring day for democracy”.

“When faced with the choice of whether to allow politicians and special interests to consolidate power and strip voters of their rights, Ohioans fought back,” she said in a statement.

“The defeat of Issue 1 should send a clear message to other extremist officials around the country that democracy will not die; people are ready to defend their rights against blatant attacks like Issue 1.”

The upcoming proposal for a constitutional amendment in November will ask Ohio voters whether “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s reproductive decisions”.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization last June, Ohio lawmakers swiftly outlawed most abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy, a law that is currently suspended by a state court injunction but could be reinstated by the state Supreme Court.

A vote to enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution would effectively overrule any such law.

Abortion rights advocates and providers have warned that Ohio’s ban, which does not include exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest, ignited a healthcare crisis that endangered patients and their families across the state, forcing people to seek care hundreds of miles out of state and navigate complicated legal and medical minefields while experiencing pregnancy complications.

Ohio Republicans initially canceled August elections altogether, which have historically low turnout. But in May, they reversed that decision to put Issue 1 on the ballot – a decision that appears to have backfired for them.

Nearly 600,000 Ohio voters cast their ballots early, with voters reporting busy polling locations across the state on election day.

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