Voters reject Ohio measure that would have raised threshold to pass abortion amendment

People celebrate the defeat of Issue 1, a Republican-backed measure that would have made it harder to amend the state constitution, an initiative aimed at helping defeat a November referendum that would protect abortion access in the state, after early results were announced during an election night party at the Columbus Fire Fighters Local 67 in Columbus, Ohio, U.S. August 8, 2023. (OSV News photo/Adam Cairns, USA Today Network via Reuters)

(OSV News) -- Ohio voters Aug. 8 rejected a measure that proposed raising the threshold to make changes to the state's constitution, according to projections by The Associated Press and the elections reporting firm Decision Desk HQ.

If passed, the measure known as Issue 1 would have raised the threshold for amending the state's constitution from 50% plus one vote to 60%.

The measure was supported by some pro-life groups as it likely would have had a significant impact on a November ballot measure that would in effect enshrine access to abortion in the state's constitution. That measure, which will be considered Nov. 7, is supported by Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, which was formed by Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights in February 2023.

The November measure would legalize abortion up to the point of viability unless a physician decided an abortion after that point 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 abortion is currently legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks of pregnancy. If passed, the November measure would slightly increase that limit. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2020 data, 90% of Ohio's 20,600 abortions in 2020 took place within 13 weeks gestation; just 113 abortions were reported at or above 21 weeks gestation.

With about 97% of votes counted Aug. 9, projections showed Issue 1 on track to fail 57%-43%.

In a statement, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America called the outcome "a sad day for Ohio and a warning for pro-life states across the nation."

"Millions of dollars and liberal dark money flooded Ohio to ensure they have a path to buy their extreme policies in a pro-life state," the SBA statement said. "Tragically, some sat on the sideline while outsider liberal groups poured millions into Ohio. A broad coalition of passionate pro-life Ohioans came together to fight parental rights opponents and try to take victory from the jaws of defeat. But the silence of the establishment and business community in Ohio left a vacuum too large to overcome."

The statement argued that "sadly, attacks on state constitutions are now the national playbook of the extreme pro-abortion Left."

"So long as the Republicans and their supporters take the ostrich strategy and bury their heads in the sand, they will lose again and again," it said.

In a statement, President Joe Biden said Ohio voters "rejected an effort by Republican lawmakers and special interests to change the state's constitutional amendment process."

"This measure was a blatant attempt to weaken voters' voices and further erode the freedom of women to make their own health care decisions. Ohioans spoke loud and clear, and tonight democracy won," Biden said.

Rhiannon Carnes, spokeswoman for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, argued in a statement that "Ohioans won."

"Ohioans saw Issue 1 for what it was -- an attempt to deny our families a voice, even when it comes to our most personal decisions," Carnes said. "Now, Ohioans will turn their focus to rejecting extremism and government control to ensure families have the freedom to make decisions that are best for them."

Carnes added the group will be "working hard every day to ensure their voices are heard in November."

Supporters of the measure argued raising the threshold would bring Ohio's constitution more in line with the process for amending the U.S. Constitution, which requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress or two-thirds of states in convention to propose an amendment. To take effect, the amendment must then be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or three-fourths of conventions called in each state for ratification.

Opponents of changing the Ohio amendment process -- which also included pro-life Republican leaders like former Ohio Gov. John Kasich -- argued the measure would disenfranchise majorities of voters on key issues and would mark a significant break with long-standing precedent for amending the state constitution. Opponents also argued supporters tailored Issue 1 so that the abortion ballot measure would fail in November.

The Catholic Conference of Ohio did not take a position on Issue 1 as it did not have moral content, but encouraged Catholics to register and vote in the special election, citing the U.S. bishops' teaching in "Faithful Citizenship" that "responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation."

While Issue 1 did not directly relate to abortion, the upcoming November measure colored debate over the special election.

In the November 2022 elections following the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that overturned prior precedent finding abortion access a constitutional right, voters in states across the U.S. either rejected ballot measures meant to restrict abortion, or voted to codify measures protecting the procedure.

Similar efforts are likely in other states, with abortion activists eyeing a similar push in Arizona next year.

Peter Range, Ohio Right to Life's CEO, said in a statement on the loss that "we in the pro-life movement have the privilege of living to fight another day."

"Thus, today, we rise to honor God, and the dignity of all human life, by continuing the fight to defend the innocent."



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