In the year following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, extreme ballot initiatives have emerged as the newest threat to life. Pro-abortion groups now seek to enshrine the “right” to abortion in state constitutions across the nation, which would allow abortion-on-demand in many jurisdictions. All eyes are on Ohio as it faces two upcoming ballot initiatives that may drastically change the state’s political landscape on pro-life policy.
In a special election on August 8, Ohioans will be presented with a ballot initiative called Issue 1 concerning a change to the current constitution of the State of Ohio. Presently, for a proposed constitutional amendment initiative to make the ballot, a petition must be filed with the Secretary of State containing signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties. If the petition has an insufficient number of signatures, petitioners have a ten-day period to cure the deficiency by gathering more signatures. Once the proposed amendment is on the ballot, a simple majority of 50% is required for it to pass. Notably, Ohio’s 1912 constitution has been amended 172 times with these requirements. Issue 1, on the other hand, would alter these requirements by “elevating the standards to qualify for an initiated constitutional amendment and to pass a constitutional amendment.” In it, three requirements would be enacted: elevating the simple majority to a 60% threshold supermajority, increase the requirement of county signatures from 44 to all 88 Ohio counties, and verify and ensure all valid signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment are collected on the specified due date, with no extensions.
Public officials have openly shared their support for Issue 1, including Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio U.S. Senator JD Vance. House Majority Whip Jim Hoops publicly shared his own thoughts on the August special election, stating, “[A] Yes vote on Issue 1 will not make it impossible to amend the Ohio Constitution but rather would require a higher level of consensus and support, guaranteeing thoughtful changes reflect the broader will of the bill.” Many Ohioans are in consensus with Representative Hoop’s sentiments on Issue 1 and see the ballot initiative as a way both to ensure that constitutional changes have more widespread support among Ohioans and to safeguard against extreme ballot proposals from special interest groups.
The August special election precedes a radical pro-choice amendment proposal called “The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety” for the upcoming November 7 election. In the November election, Ohioans will get to decide whether their state constitution should protect a “right” to abortion. The amendment would establish a state constitutional “right to make and carry out one’s reproductive decisions,” including decisions about abortion. The amendment would also prohibit the state from regulating abortion before viability, except where the state shows “that it is using the least restrictive means to advance the individual’s health in accordance with widely accepted and evidence-based standards of care.” Furthermore, the state would be prohibited from regulating abortion after viability “if in the professional judgement of the pregnant patient’s treating physician it is necessary to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health.” This ambiguous language is just another attempt by special interest groups to assert an unfettered “right” to abortion in the state.
Out-of-state special interest groups are believed to have proposed this amendment, which does not accurately represent Ohioans’ views on abortion. In reality, Ohioans have demonstrated their pro-life convictions in many ways over the years, including the passage of the country’s first heartbeat bill in 2019. In addition, the state has passed life-affirming laws that protect women and preborn children, including a born-alive law that protects abortion-surviving infants, and an in-person protection for distribution of abortion-inducing drugs. There are more than 100 pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) in Ohio, which further demonstrates Ohioans’ commitment to providing life-affirming care to underserved pregnant women and their families.
However, if the proposed November constitutional amendment is passed, it will have devasting consequences for the women and girls in Ohio. Enshrining a constitutional “right” to abortion endangers women because it will severely limit Ohio’s ability to ensure the health, safety, and informed consent of women seeking abortion. Currently, Ohio has several protections for women seeking abortions, including an informed consent process that ensures women are provided with essential information about the procedure, risks, and alternatives to make an informed decision. This process also requires a woman to wait 24-hours before the abortion to ensure that she has time to process the information provided by the physician before making a life-altering decision.
In addition to these safeguards for women, Ohio also has strong protections for preborn children. To name a few, the state prohibits abortions sought because the baby has Down syndrome, prohibits partial birth abortions, and in 2019, Ohio was the first state in our nation to pass a heartbeat bill, although the law is currently enjoined and not in effect due to ongoing litigation.
Yet, the November ballot initiative poses a threat to Ohio’s safeguards for women and their preborn children. Given the proposed amendment’s broad language, any regulation on abortion may be considered to “interfere” with a woman’s “reproductive decision” to have an abortion, including Ohio’s current informed consent process and its parental notification laws. As a result, these laws are at risk of being repealed by the legislature. Likewise, Ohio’s heartbeat law will likely be found to violate the state’s broad abortion “right” and remain blocked. The amendment would also make it difficult for the state to enact any future protections for women and preborn children.
To many pro-life Ohioans, the weight of the November ballot initiative highlights the importance of passing Issue 1 this August. Issue 1 would help protect and preserve Ohio’s constitution from out-of-state groups with adverse interests to most Ohioans and ensure that there is a broader sampling of votes for constitutional amendments going forward. Ohio is one of only 18 states that allows outside groups to propose constitutional amendments. As a result, affluent out-of-state interest groups can easily buy their way onto the ballot and insert their own political agenda. However, it is far from “democratic” to overwhelm proven majority support for human life by massive spending in pro-abortion population centers in efforts to push through a confusing and manipulative ballot resolution for a “right to reproductive freedom.” To combat such efforts, Issue 1 would ensure that residents from all 88 counties sign off in support of a proposed constitutional amendment initiative before it can even make it on the ballot. And it upholds the integrity of the amendment process by requiring all valid signatures for a constitutional amendment to be submitted by the deadline. These proposed changes, coupled with raising the threshold for constitutional amendments, will ensure that amendments to the constitution have overwhelming support from Ohio citizens.
Ohio is not the only state to face radical pro-abortion ballot initiatives. In 2022, Michigan passed a citizen-initiated ballot initiative titled Proposal 3, which established a state “right” to “reproductive freedom,” including a right to abortion. Like the Ohio November ballot initiative, Proposal 3 broadly prohibited states from regulating abortion, even after viability. In the year following the passage of Proposal 3 in Michigan, the state has already repealed Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban and a state law that makes it a 15-year felony for conducting an abortion that results in the death of a woman. Missouri and Maryland both face threats of emerging ballot initiatives as well. Michigan’s Proposal 3 is demonstrative of the impact of radical pro-abortion ballot initiatives.
Ultimately, both the August and November ballot questions have the potential to greatly change Ohio’s political landscape on pro-life policy. Passing Issue 1 and raising the threshold for constitutional amendments will partially determine whether Ohio becomes the next state to enshrine a right to abortion in its state constitution. Thus, it is critical more than ever for pro-life Ohioans to continue fighting for life in the ballot by casting their votes and having their voices heard.