Issue 1, a maneuver by right-wing Ohio legislators to thwart efforts to enshrine abortion access in the state constitution, went down in defeat Aug. 8. In a special election closely watched around the country, 57% of the voters said “no” to requiring a 60% supermajority to amend Ohio’s constitution. Issue 1 also would have made it more difficult to collect the requisite number of voter signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the state ballot.
On July 5, Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom submitted 710,000 signatures of registered voters supporting the Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety amendment. This amendment states in part: “Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on: contraception; fertility treatment; continuing one’s own pregnancy; miscarriage care; and abortion.”
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose ruled July 25 that nearly 496,000 signatures — well over the legal requirement — were valid, and the amendment would be on the Nov. 7 ballot.
After months of claiming otherwise in media interviews, LaRose, a Republican, told a rally of supporters May 22 that Issue 1 was, “100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution.” He went on to issue a warning of “dangerous plans,” saying, “The next thing they want to do is put a $15 an hour minimum wage in our state constitution.” (ohiocapitaljournal.com)
Record turnout thwarts right-wing effort
In 2022, the state legislature voted to stop special elections in August, citing low voter turnout. But these same legislators voted to hold this special August election, solely to decide on Issue 1, counting on a low voter turnout that would ensure its success.
In fact over 3 million Ohioans voted Aug. 8, a record turnout for an August election. This was due to a massive mobilization by reproductive justice activists, organized labor, the NAACP and others who viewed Issue 1 as an attack on voting rights. All across the state, union members volunteered their time through phone-banking, door-to-door canvassing and writing postcards.
Issue 1 supporters made a desperate appeal to anti-trans bigotry, falsely claiming that the Reproductive Freedom amendment would allow minors to obtain gender reassignment surgery without parental consent. However, trans youth whose parents are bigots do need access to gender-affirming health care without having to obtain parental permission.
None of the frenzied, lying propaganda by the right wing was able to sway the outcome. Now the reproductive justice movement can work on winning the vote in November, which will make Ohio the seventh state where voters either enacted a reproductive justice initiative or shot down laws blocking abortion access. Polls show Ohio’s Reproductive Freedom Amendment passing with a significant majority.
More state votes over abortion access are likely to take place in 2024. Every win helps to limit the impact of the horrendous 2022 Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that overturned Roe v. Wade and ended almost 50 years of legalized abortion access. Within six months after the ruling, 24 states instituted full or partial abortion bans.
Regardless of the outcome at the polls, the fight for reproductive justice must continue on many fronts. These include clinic defense, mass rallies and underground efforts, such as those of “The Janes” in the 1970s, to provide a safe abortion to anyone who needs one.