Issue 1: Ohio vote gives abortion rights supporters a win

  • By Holly Honderich
  • In Washington

image source, Jake Olson/BBC

Ohio has rejected a Republican resolution that would have made it harder to change the state’s constitution — a defeat seen by anti-abortion groups.

The Republican-controlled state legislature hoped to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments to 60% instead of a simple majority.

It was widely seen as a move to derail a planned referendum to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution.

President Joe Biden called it a victory for democracy and women.

Mr Biden said the Republican-backed measure was “a blatant attempt to weaken the voices of voters and further erode women’s freedom to make their own health care decisions”.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ended women’s abortion rights a year ago, a ban on the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy went into effect in Ohio — a move that is currently on hold following a legal challenge.

Pro-choice groups in Ohio plan to use the November elections to replace the right to abortion by enshrining the right to abortion in the Midwestern state’s constitution.

With the majority of ballots counted – known as Issue 1 – US media predicted Tuesday evening that most Ohio voters had said ‘no’ to raising the threshold for constitutional amendment to more than 50% of voters – including in big cities. Like Cleveland and Columbus. About 43% voted in favor of the measure.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairwoman Liz Walters told the Columbus Dispatch, “It’s a win for the state that we want to see.”

More than 600,000 people submitted early ballots on the issue — a historically high turnout for an August election in the state.

Issue 1 may seem harsh, but the rare summer election has potential implications for a referendum later scheduled in November that would establish a statewide right to abortion.

Had the measure passed, the abortion-rights amendment would have been blocked, and support would have fallen below the proposed threshold.

So was Issue 1 a referendum on protecting the Constitution, as its proponents claim, or was it really about abortion?

Issue 1 was the only question on the ballot in Ohio’s August 8 special election.

If passed, the threshold for approving amendments would have changed from 50% to 60%. And Issue 1, which would make it harder to put amendments before voters in the first place, requires petitioners to collect signatures from 5% of eligible voters in Ohio’s 88 counties, instead of the current 44.

In the 111 years since Ohio first gave voters the power to introduce citizen-led amendments, only 19 of 71 proposed measures have passed the 50% threshold.

Why is it controversial?

Issue 1 was won by Ohio’s Republican-led legislature and the state’s chief election officer, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Mr. LaRose and his allies say Issue 1 protects the Ohio Constitution from outside paying interests.

image source, Jake Olson/BBC

image caption,

Mr. LaRose speaks to Republican voters ahead of the Issue 1 election

But opponents of Issue 1 — a diverse and bipartisan coalition — insisted it was actually an attempt to block the abortion amendment.

“They’ve seen polls in Ohio that show 58, 59% of Ohioans support this amendment,” said Kelly Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio. “So they’re looking to put it out of reach.”

At a private event in May, Mr LaRose confirmed these widely held suspicions.

“I’m pro-life. I think a lot of you are,” Mr LaRose said in a video recorded by Scanner Media. “This is 100% about keeping the pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution.”

What are the possible consequences?

Abortion-Rights Amendment – ​​Protects access to abortion up until fetal conception (up to 24 weeks of pregnancy), polls show. A majority is likely to win. But meeting the 60% threshold is a long shot.

Without constitutional protections, the House will move forward with anti-abortion laws.

If abortion becomes illegal in Ohio, the consequences will be felt by millions in neighboring states, including Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, where abortion access has already been cut off.

Beyond abortion, observers say the implications of Ohio’s August election could spill over into next year’s state election for US senator, in which Mr LaRose could be a candidate.

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