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Ohio voters are likely to decide the future of abortion rights

Abortion rights groups collected tens of thousands of signatures to put the issue on ballots this fall

Alex Woodward
Thursday 06 July 2023 15:30 BST
Post Dobbs: What does abortion in America look like now?

Voters in Ohio will likely decide if the state’s constitution should enshrine the right to abortion care, after abortion rights advocates collected tens of thousands of signatures on a petition to put the issue on ballots this fall.

If certified, those 710,000 signatures – roughly 300,000 more than required by state law – will place a proposed constitutional amendment asking whether “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s reproductive decisions.”

A statewide vote for abortion protections follows a wave of anti-abortion laws in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a constitutional right to care last year. More than a dozen states, mostly across the entire US South, have effectively outlawed most abortions.

But the Supreme Court decision to overturn the half-century precedent under Roe v Wade also fuelled efforts to protect abortion rights across the country, including in neighboring Michigan and Kentucky, where voters in both states voted to support abortion rights in ballot measures last year.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, Ohio lawmakers swiftly outlawed most abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy, a law that is currently suspended by a state court injunction but could be reinstated by the Ohio Supreme Court. A vote to enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution would effectively overrule any such law.

Abortion rights advocates and providers have warned that Ohio’s ban, which does not include exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest, ignited a healthcare crisis that endangered patients and their families across the state, forcing people to seek care hundreds of miles out of state and navigate complicated legal and medical minefields while experiencing pregnancy complications.

The petition launched by Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights will head to the secretary of state, which has until 25 July to determine the validity of the signatures.

Boxes of petition signatures to put a constitutional amendment on fall ballots in Ohio arrived at the state’s secretary of state office on 5 July. (AP)

The campaign launched with an open letter on 7 July of last year signed by hundreds of physicians rejecting the state’s anti-abortion law.

“Over the past year, support for the amendment has grown exponentially thanks to our partners at [Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom], the thousands of volunteers who gathered signatures in communities across the state, and the hundreds of thousands of people who added their names to our petitions,” according to a statement from Dr Lauren Beene and Dr Marcela Azevedo, co-founders of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights.

“Today, the message we and they are sending is loud and clear: ‘let the people decide,’” they said.

The campaign will magnify the role of Ohio – a state that voted for Donald Trump by more than 8 percentage points over Joe Biden in 2020 – in the 2024 presidential campaign and the renewed battle for abortion rights surrounding it, as Republican candidates and members of Congress weigh federal legislation that would outlaw or severely restrict abortion access nationwide.

President Biden and Democratic candidates have signalled the central role that abortion rights protections will play in upcoming campaigns, alongside their warnings of a GOP-controlled White House and Congress legislating on abortion at the national level.

Last year, a record number of voters in Kansas – a state that Mr Biden lost by more than 15 percentage points in 2020 – turned out for an election to reject a Republican-drafted amendment that would strip abortion rights from the state’s constitution, the first test for abortion rights put directly to voters after the ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

That measure was shot down by nearly 20 percentage points, sending a resounding message that underscored the immense unpopularity of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The president has repeatedly invoked that election victory in remarks supporting abortion rights in the months that followed, stating that the Supreme Court “practically dared women in this country to go to the ballot box and restore the right to choose,” and that anti-abortion lawmakers vastly underestimated how Americans would respond.

Following the outcome in Kansas, Mr Biden pointed to the justices’ own writing in the Dobbs decision: “Women are not without electoral or political power.”

“They don’t have a clue about the power of American women,” he said. “In Kansas, they found out women and men did exercise their electoral political power with a record turnout.”

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