WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a massive win for reproductive rights, voters in Republican-leaning Ohio overcame Republican obstruction and overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that will enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution.
As of this morning, with more than 95% of votes in, nearly 57% of Ohioans voted to approve the measure, which covers a host of health care decisions, including contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care and abortion. Yet if Republicans got their way over the summer, last night’s 13-point margin in support of Issue 1 would have resulted in a totally different outcome — the amendment would have failed.
In an August special election earlier this year, Ohio voters widely rejected a Republican-backed amendment that would have required future constitutional amendments to receive 60% support from voters, as opposed to the existing 50% threshold.
The undemocratic proposal was led in large part by U.S. Senate candidate and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who admitted that the August amendment was “100%” about keeping the abortion rights amendment out of the state constitution.
In May, ahead of the special election, individual Ohio voters and One Person One Vote, a coalition representing Ohio voters, filed a lawsuit alleging that the August special election was illegal because Ohio law prescribes an “unambiguous schedule” for elections. Additionally, the plaintiffs argued that Ohio law requires special elections on constitutional amendments to take place either during general elections in November or during primary elections in March or May.
LaRose pushed to place the change before voters in a special, likely low-turnout August election despite previously advocating for the elimination of August elections precisely because of the likelihood of low turnout.
The Ohio Supreme Court declined to block the August election in a 4-3 party line decision, holding that it was “constitutionally valid,” but ultimately, 57% of voters rejected the proposal, keeping the threshold for passing constitutional amendments to a simple majority.
Ohio Republicans’ attempts to subvert the reproductive rights amendment didn’t stop after the August election. A Republican lawsuit sought to prevent the abortion rights amendment from even reaching voters, with the conservative plaintiffs arguing that the initiative did not describe what laws would be repealed if the amendment were to pass. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected that argument, ruling that Ohio law did not require such a description.
Two weeks later, after suffering repeated failures, Ohio Republicans resorted to distorting the summary language of the amendment. LaRose completely overhauled the previously certified “fair and accurate” wording, and replaced it with new language that Democrats and abortion rights groups described as “propaganda” “rife with misleading and defective language.”
Even after yesterday’s defeat, some Ohio Republicans have suggested they would try to undo yesterday’s victory for reproductive rights. Senate President Matt Huffman (R) said the result was not the end and that it “is really just the beginning of a revolving door of ballot campaigns to repeal or replace Issue 1.” House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) similarly claimed,”[T]he legislature has multiple paths that we will explore.”
The reproductive rights amendment will take effect 30 days from yesterday’s election.