Ohio Supreme Court Orders Small Tweak to GOP Rewrite of Abortion Amendment Ballot Language

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Sept. 19, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the Ohio Ballot Board to make a small tweak to ballot language for the citizen-led abortion rights amendment that would enshrine the right to reproductive freedom in the Ohio Constitution. 

The court allowed most of the Republican-controlled ballot board’s language to remain in place. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) — who serves as the chairperson of the Ohio Ballot Board — was responsible for the ballot language rewrite. The proposed amendment — known as Issue 1 — will appear on the Nov. 7, 2023 ballot.  

Yesterday’s ruling comes after Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights and voters filed a petition in the Ohio Supreme Court challenging the ballot language adopted by the Ohio Ballot Board. The petitioners behind the legal challenge alleged that the language misleads Ohioans since it omits salient information and contains language that could prejudice voters against the amendment. In particular, the Ohio Ballot Board’s ballot language contained wording such as “unborn child,” despite the term appearing nowhere in the amendment itself.

According to the organization’s petition, the language also failed to capture the full substance of the amendment since it only names abortion despite the amendment’s protections covering a whole host of reproductive decisions including: contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care and abortion. The Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights requested that the ballot board amend this language to more accurately describe the amendment. 

Although the Ohio Supreme Court declined most of the petitioners’ requests to alter the ballot language, it did order the ballot board to change a narrow portion of the language concerning whom the amendment would restrict. 

Previously, the language stated that the proposed amendment would “[p]rohibit the citizens of the State of Ohio from directly or indirectly burdening, penalizing, or prohibiting abortion before an unborn child is determined to be viable, unless the State demonstrates that it is using the least restrictive means.” Additionally, the language stated that the proposed amendment would “[o]nly allow the citizens of the State of Ohio to prohibit an abortion after an unborn child is determined by a pregnant woman’s treating physician to be viable and only if the physician does not consider the abortion necessary to protect the pregnant woman’s life or health.”

The court agreed with the petitioners’ contention that the phrase “citizens of the state” — instead of “the state” — is misleading since it “suggests that amendment could restrict certain activities of private citizens, such as protesting outside an abortion clinic.” In reality, the amendment seeks to restrict the state itself — not private actors — from taking actions to prohibit abortion. 

“Instead of describing a proposed amendment that would establish a right to carry out reproductive decisions free from government intrusion, the ballot language’s use of the term ‘citizens of the State’ would mislead voters by suggesting that the amendment would limit the rights of individual citizens to oppose abortion,” the court’s opinion reads.  

In just over a month and a half, Ohio voters will head to the polls and vote on Issue 1. If a majority of Ohioans vote “Yes” on the proposed amendment, the right to reproductive freedom — including, but not limited to abortion — will become a part of the Ohio Constitution. 

Back in August, Ohio voters handily rejected a GOP-backed proposal that would have made it harder for voters to amend the Ohio Constitution. LaRose outwardly admitted that the now-rejected proposal was specifically put on the ballot to keep an abortion rights amendment out of the state constitution. 

Learn more about the case here.

Read the opinion here.