life after roe

Ohio’s Pro-Choice Majority Needs to Turn Out Twice This Year

Abortion-rights protesters in Ohio after the 2022 Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade. Photo: Whitney Saleski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Like most states, even red ones, Ohio has a pro-choice popular majority that has been roused by the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. A Baldwin Wallace University survey of the Buckeye State last autumn showed 59.1 percent of registered Ohio voters would favor a state constitutional amendment to restore abortion rights. Now that a measure to do just that looks very likely to appear on November 2023 ballots in Ohio, that should be enough to put the kibosh on the six-week abortion ban Ohio Republican legislators enacted in 2019; it’s been on temporary hold in state court. But there’s a catch: That same legislature scheduled a vote during an August 8 special election to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments proposed by citizen initiatives from a simple majority to the super-majority level of 60 percent. It was enacted with exactly the current scenario in mind and is designed to stop an anti-abortion win at the ballot box. If it passes, the 59.1 percent of Ohioans who favor abortion rights could be thwarted by a minority of voters.

The two votes are a virtual certainty now that the anti-abortion-amendment signature drive has ended, as NBC News reports:

State officials must now review the signatures for duplicates and other potential errors. (Signatures can be thrown out, for example, if the person wasn’t registered to vote at the address submitted or if the person’s handwriting was unreadable.) The groups, however, said they’d collected nearly twice the needed number of signatures — more than 710,000 — in the event that any were deemed invalid. 

The energy (and money) needed to collect those signatures must now be converted into a drive to turn out voters in not one but two off-year elections. If fundraising is any indication, getting the attention of voters, even in the dog days of August, may be easier than you’d think (per NBC News):

Officials with the reproductive rights coalition said Wednesday that they plan to spend at least $35 million through November. Meanwhile, Protect Women Ohio, a group opposing the November measure, said it had committed to spending another $20 million to combat the November measure. That’s on top of the $5 million the group has already spent since it launched its campaign in March.

The proposed constitutional amendment essentially restates the Roe precedent abolished at the federal level by SCOTUS, protecting pre-viability abortions and allowing post-viability restrictions only if exceptions are made for pregnancies that threaten the life and health of the mother.

These two Ohio votes are the only abortion measures currently certified for this calendar year. (There’s a slight chance Pennsylvania’s legislature will certify an anti-abortion measure for the November ballot if Democrats lose control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.) So the Ohio votes will be watched carefully by advocates weighing 2024 abortion rights ballot initiatives (already on tap in Maryland and New York and likely in Florida) and by lawmakers and strategists for both major parties nationally. If Ohio’s anti-abortion majority manages to prevail twice this year, it will continue a winning streak at the polls that began in 2022 in Kansas, Kentucky, California, Vermont, Michigan, and Montana. It would also remind Republicans that their longtime alliance with the forced-birth lobby is going to continue costing them votes and even power.

Ohio’s Pro-Choice Majority Needs to Turn Out Twice This Year