Ohio voters have made a significant decision by approving a constitutional amendment that safeguards access to abortion and other vital forms of reproductive health care. This victory for abortion rights supporters comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last year.
Ohio now joins the ranks as the seventh state where voters have opted to protect abortion access since the landmark ruling. Notably, Ohio stands alone as the only state in 2023 to address a statewide abortion rights matter.
The outcome of this passionate off-year election could potentially serve as a telling indicator for 2024, when Democrats anticipate that this issue will galvanize their voter base and bolster President Joe Biden’s bid to retain the White House. In the coming year, Arizona, Missouri, and other states are also expected to vote on similar protections.
Issue 1, Ohio’s constitutional amendment that appeared on the ballot, stands out for containing some of the most robust language in support of abortion access among all statewide initiatives since the Supreme Court ruling. Critics had voiced concerns that the amendment might jeopardize parental rights, enable unchecked gender surgeries for minors, and revive the controversial practice of “partial birth” abortions, which are federally prohibited.
Recent public opinion polls indicate that roughly two-thirds of Americans believe abortion should generally be legal during the early stages of pregnancy. This sentiment has been consistently expressed in both Democratic and predominantly Republican states since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe in June 2022.
Leading up to the Ohio vote, statewide initiatives in California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont had either affirmed abortion access or successfully countered attempts to undermine this fundamental right.
Voter Turnout in Ohio’s Constitutional Amendment
Voter turnout for Ohio’s constitutional amendment, including early voting, was robust for an off-year election. This amendment, known as Issue 1, has the potential to undo a 2019 state law enacted by Republicans. The existing law bans most abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, with no exceptions for cases of rape and incest. Although the law is currently on hold due to court challenges, it is one of approximately two dozen restrictions on abortion that the Ohio Legislature has passed in recent years.
Protecting Reproductive Rights
Issue 1 specifically declares an individual’s right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” encompassing birth control, fertility treatments, miscarriage, and abortion. The amendment allows the state to regulate the procedure after fetal viability, provided that exceptions are made for cases in which a doctor determines that the woman’s “life or health” is at risk. Viability is defined as the point at which the fetus has “a significant likelihood of survival” outside the womb, with reasonable interventions.
In an effort to defeat the amendment, anti-abortion groups, supported by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, employed various messaging tactics. Their primary focus was on portraying the proposal as too extreme for the state. On the other hand, supporters of Issue 1 campaigned to keep government interference out of families’ private affairs.
The latest voting event followed an August special election initiated by the Republican-controlled Legislature. This special election aimed to make future constitutional changes more challenging to pass by increasing the voting threshold from a simple majority to 60%. The intention behind this proposal was partly to undermine the abortion-rights measure decided upon in Tuesday’s election.
However, voters overwhelmingly rejected the special election question, setting the stage for a high-stakes fall abortion campaign.