Ohio vote: Big win for reproductive justice

Reproductive justice activists rally to support Issue 1 on the November ballot, Oct. 8, 2023


Reproductive justice advocates scored a historic victory on Election Day in Ohio. With almost 57% in favor, voters passed an amendment to the state constitution — Issue 1 on the ballot — enshrining the right to abortion and contraception access. 

Bringing this amendment to fruition was an uphill battle from start to finish. Ohio law requires hundreds of thousands of signatures of registered voters to place an initiative on the ballot, along with a certain percentage from at least 44 of the state’s 88 counties. Then every signature is checked, with a large percentage thrown out over technicalities.

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights (OURR), the coalition of 25 groups formed to win passage of the amendment, collected over 710,000 signatures, well over the 413,000 required to put the initiative on the ballot. Close to 500,000 were deemed valid.

Stymied, anti-abortion forces who control the state legislature came up with a scheme. They scheduled a special, one-issue election in August over a constitutional amendment to mandate a 60% supermajority to pass any future amendments to the state constitution. This was crafted to defeat the reproductive justice amendment, which was expected to pass but with less than 60% support.

However, voters turned out in record numbers for an early election and that attack on democracy, also called Issue 1, went down in defeat.

Mass deception employed

Before and after the August election, tens of millions of dollars were spent on lying campaign ads by the deliberately misnamed “Protect Women Ohio.”

The right wing appealed to backward attitudes, claiming the November Issue 1 would encourage minors to obtain an abortion and/or gender-affirming surgery without parental involvement. The ads claimed they could be coerced into abortions and surgeries. 

From a civil rights standpoint, if the law allows a pregnant minor to give birth without parental permission, the same should be true for abortion and contraception. And if a transgender teenager needs gender-affirming care, shouldn’t they have that right even if their bigoted parents object?

Nevertheless, even Republican Attorney General Dave Yost affirmed that the amendment would have no effect on parental consent.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his spouse, Fran DeWine, appeared in ads raising red flags around the non-medical term “late-term abortions.” Yet the actual amendment allows the state to limit abortions after fetal viability to those needed to protect the life or health of the pregnant person. Less than 1% of all abortions occur in the third trimester of pregnancy.

More dirty tricks by the state 

Not only did the right wing run misleading ads, but Ohio Secretary of State Frank DeRose changed the ballot summary language, incorporating the phrase “unborn child.” The actual language drafted by OURR states that, “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.”

Yet none of the right-wing’s misogynist and transphobic schemes were effective. Reproductive justice opponents suffered additional defeats, including the reelection of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat who supports abortion access. Ohio and Kentucky are considered “red states,” meaning voters lean Republican. Ohio elected Trumpite Sen. J.D. Vance in 2022, a year when most pro-Trump extremists were defeated.

The Ohio vote — won by a mass grassroots campaign by an army of volunteers — reflects the will of the majority to defend reproductive freedom. This fight is taking place in all arenas of struggle, including the electoral arena. Boosted by the Ohio win, abortion access advocates are planning ballot initiatives in more states.

But it should not be forgotten that the mass struggle in the streets has been, and  will continue to be, decisive in protecting and retaining every right, including the right to make one’s own reproductive decisions.


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