All eyes were on Ohio yesterday as voters approved one of the most high-profile abortion-rights victories in the country since the overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022.
“This election affirmed what we’ve always known to be true: People have faith in abortion seekers,” said Elaina Ramsey of Faith Choice Ohio, a faith-based reproductive justice group, in a statement on election night.
Voters approved an amendment to add abortion rights to the state constitution by a wide margin (more than 56 percent voted for the amendment and 43 percent voted against, with 99 percent of the vote counted according to CBS News), ending a tumultuous year of uncertainty over the future of legal abortion in the state.
Issue 1 states, “Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on: 1. contraception; 2. fertility treatment; 3. continuing one’s own pregnancy; 4. miscarriage care; and 5. abortion.” Rather than set a limit on abortions — naming a week or trimester of the pregnancy at which the procedure could not be sought — the bill calls for physician-determined viability and allows abortion at any time if the life and health of the mother are at stake.
“This struggle has always been about more than abortion,” Ramsey said. “It means people can have access to miscarriage care and lifesaving treatments for ectopic pregnancies without fear of criminalization. It means medical students and OBGYNS can stay in Ohio and practice medicine without government interference. It means that shame & stigma will not have the last word over our bodily autonomy, human rights, and dignity.”
The amendment protects the right to an abortion until viability, usually understood to mean 24 weeks, similar to current laws in Ohio. In 2019, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a ban on abortions after embryonic cardiac activity (usually around six weeks), but the law was blocked by state courts.
In an August special election, the heavily Republican Ohio legislature tried to get ahead of Tuesday’s ballot initiative by raising the threshold for a constitutional amendment from a simple majority to 60 percent. Voters rejected the peremptory maneuver.
The outcome is likely to keep abortion at the forefront of Democratic campaigning heading into the 2024 presidential election. On the same night that Ohio passed the amendment, Democrats in Virginia, who campaigned heavily on protecting abortion rights, took control of the state’s General Assembly. Both parties have been looking to the off-year election to gauge how abortion will mobilize voters.
Organizing efforts across the country for states to either enshrine or further restrict abortion have made for a constantly changing landscape since the overturn of Roe. Conservative legislatures have passed total bans on the procedure in 14 states, and state lawmakers in conservative districts tout their anti-abortion wins in press releases and campaign literature. But when the issue has gone to state voters — in Montana, Michigan, California, Vermont, Kansas, and Kentucky — abortion rights have triumphed every time.
Catholic voters navigated internal debates on the way to the polls. Bishops in Ohio spoke out strongly against Issue 1, but Catholics in general are more moderate on abortion, according to Catholics for Choice, a reproductive rights advocacy group. Catholics for Choice campaigned for Issue 1 in Ohio leading up to the election, encouraging fellow Catholics not to use their faith as a reason to “take away fundamental freedoms.”
“Catholics and the majority of people of faith support abortion access, no matter what the hierarchy spends or says,” Jamie L. Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, said in a statement on election night. “Catholics for Choice was proud to spend a small fraction of the money the bishops spent to combat disinformation and put 47 billboards up across the state to share the truth: Pro-choice Catholics are not alone.”
Leading up to the election, anti-abortion advocates voiced concerns that the broad language of the bill could undo some of the restrictions Ohioans had already agreed to, like parental consent for medical treatment of minors. Ohio has parental consent laws for abortion and other reproductive care in statute, but the amendment could cast uncertainty on existing limitations, warns Cherilyn Holloway of Pro-Black Pro-Life.
“Like anything it becomes challenging to educate voters on what voting ‘yes,’ could mean,” Holloway said. “Any new amendment takes the place of any prior amendment and language. We need to pause. Ask more clarifying questions so our voters have a clear understanding of what you are voting on.”
Whether or not voters were mulling the possible implications or precedent set by Issue 1 and its wording, the healthy margin of victory further solidifies abortion rights as a winning issue with voters.
“Abortion and reproductive rights are not only winning issues, but deeply matter to everyday people.” Ramsey said. “Our human rights are sacred, including the right to continue or end a pregnancy and to raise families in safe & healthy communities.”