Ohio measure on November ballot would codify abortion access in state constitution

A pro-life billboard is seen in Cleveland June 24, 2021. In November, Ohio voters will consider Issue 1, a measure that would enshrine abortion protections in the state's constitution through viability, typically understood to be 24 weeks gestation. (OSV News photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

(OSV News) -- Ohio voters will consider Issue 1 in November, a measure that would codify abortion access in the state's constitution through fetal viability, typically understood to be 24 weeks gestation.

The measure, advanced by the Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights and Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, will be on the state's ballot Nov. 7. If passed, it would legalize abortion up to the point of fetal viability -- the gestational maturity at which a baby may be capable of living outside the uterus -- and beyond, if a physician decided an abortion was necessary for the sake of the mother's life or health.

Although Ohio lawmakers enacted a six-week abortion ban, that measure is tied up in state court, meaning abortions are currently legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Supporters of the measure argue it would return the state to the legal standard set prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's overturn of Roe v. Wade in June 2022. Opponents argue the measure would go further than that through its definition of fetal viability, which states viability would be determined on "a case-by-case basis."

Ohio voters rejected in August another ballot initiative that would have raised the threshold for passing constitutional amendments to 60% of voters, leaving in place the state's requirement of 50% plus one vote. That measure would have made passing Issue 1 more difficult.

An Oct. 17 Baldwin Wallace University Ohio Pulse Poll found that 58% of likely Ohio voters for the Nov. 7 election support passage of Issue 1.

But Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, expressed optimism about blocking the amendment at the ballot box, telling reporters in an Oct. 25 press call that "we have a fighting chance to protect the unborn and serve mothers in ways that they deserve."

"If we lose that initiative, it means that there will be no ability for citizens of Ohio to speak to their own views and have them be reflected in the law," she said. "There can be no consensus formed in the political process."

The effort will be "a tough battle" she said.

"It is definitely not a slam dunk, but we're fighting as hard as we can," Dannenfelser said.

On the same call, Stephen Billy, vice president of state affairs for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, argued "we feel that there's definitely a path to victory in Ohio, no doubt about it. We have an uphill fight from here to Election Day."

Billy said the group is seeking to "really contrast the extremism of the Democrats with the position of the Republicans," and "that is what we're trying to do in Ohio and in ballot initiatives going forward."

Kellie Copeland, executive director at Pro-Choice Ohio, told USA TODAY that people she knew who were pregnant or considering having children "talked to me about how they were afraid," under the previous six-week ban.

"They were afraid to be pregnant in Ohio because they were afraid if something went wrong, that their doctor wouldn't be able to legally help them. And that just should never happen anywhere in the world, but especially a state like Ohio," she said.

In an Oct. 13 statement, the Ohio Catholic Conference pushed back on such claims, arguing that "over thirty Catholic hospitals, providing care to millions of patients in Ohio, affirm their commitment to delivering comprehensive healthcare for women and preborn children during pregnancy complications."

"Contrary to common misconception, neither Catholic religious directives nor any state law restrict Catholic hospitals from responding to pregnancy complications," the statement said.

"Catholic hospitals provide comprehensive miscarriage care, treatment for ectopic pregnancies, and perform other life-saving measures through medical procedures in life-threatening circumstances. Catholic hospitals play a critical role in maintaining public health," it added.

"Regardless of the passage or failure of Issue 1 in November, the care they provide during a miscarriage or other pregnancy complications will remain comprehensive and committed to the well-being of mothers and preborn children," said the Ohio Catholic Conference, which is directed by the state's Catholic bishops. "This commitment is an expression of respect for the dignity of all human beings and is central to their mission to carry out Jesus's ministry of love and healing in the world today."


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