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Ohio’s Abortion Amendment, Explained
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Ohio’s Abortion Amendment, Explained

The attempt to relax abortion restrictions will likely be the only abortion-related state referendum this year.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose at a campaign stop on November 4, 2022 in Moraine, Ohio. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A proposed amendment to Ohio’s constitution, which would guarantee the legality of abortions until fetal viability, has gathered enough signatures to make the ballot in November, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced on Tuesday. It’s the only confirmed abortion-related referendum at the state level this November, a drop from 2022, when three states approved amendments similar to Ohio’s. Additionally, three others rejected pro-life initiatives, including proposed amendments in Kansas and Kentucky that would have clarified that their state constitutions did not grant the right to an abortion.

What would Ohio’s abortion amendment codify? And how does it reflect debates happening nationwide?

Ohio’s proposed amendment.

The amendment would add a section to Article I of Ohio’s constitution to ban lawmakers from interfering with an individual’s ability to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions” before fetal viability. That’s approximately 24 weeks, according to the National Institutes of Health. Abortions are currently legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks, though a more restrictive “heartbeat bill” is currently blocked.

The bill would also forbid any restrictions on abortions deemed necessary for the mother’s health or safety, even after viability. 

Supporters gathered more than 700,000 signatures to get the amendment on the ballot, and 58 percent of Ohioans support it, according to a Suffolk University poll. Under current law, passing an amendment requires just a simple majority, but voters will decide in an August 8 special election whether to raise that threshold to 60 percent, decreasing the amendment’s chances of success. LaRose told the Washington Examiner that the abortion amendment was not the only reason that Republican lawmakers have sought to change the threshold for amendments, citing concerns over the ability to change the state constitution “constantly on whatever the issue of the day may be.” But LaRose told supporters in May that the abortion amendment was “100%” of the reason, according to the Ohio Capital Journal.

Court challenges in Ohio and elsewhere.

After Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, a ban prohibiting abortions in Ohio after a fetal heartbeat has been detected—which can happen as early as six weeks—went into effect. The ban, however, has been temporarily blocked by a state judge since September while it undergoes court challenges. Twenty-seven similar legal challenges are pending in other states.

That includes Iowa, where Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, and the Emma Goldman Clinic filed a lawsuit challenging a six-week ban that Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law in July. An Iowa judge granted a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking the ban from going into effect, but the Iowa Supreme Court granted Reynolds the ability to appeal the injunction on Tuesday. 

What comes next?

Noah Brandt, vice president of communications at the pro-life advocacy group Live Action, is optimistic that many of the bans will stand up to court scrutiny. The courts are “trying to issue a state-level Roe v. Wade,” he tells The Dispatch, because they’re “trying to find a right to abortion where no right exists … In none of these state constitutions is the word ‘abortion’ mentioned.”

Sally Frank, a law professor at Drake University, predicts “fewer state constitutional efforts in red states.” “They have not been passing because the public is more supportive of abortion than the red states thought,” she tells The Dispatch.

Public support for abortion has increased since last year’s Supreme Court Dobbs decision, which reverted abortion policy back to individual states. Sixty-one percent of Americans support its legality in all or most cases, compared to 37 percent who think it should be illegal, according to a 2022 poll by the Pew Research Center.

But the recent success of pro-abortion ballot measures doesn’t necessarily mean that the pattern will continue, Alexandra DeSanctis, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, tells The Dispatch. “Unfortunately ballot-measure votes are highly influenced by messaging battles and don’t always accurately reflect voters’ views on the policy matter at hand,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Maryland and New York have added measures similar to Ohio’s to their 2024 ballots, and several other states have proposed abortion-related constitutional amendments for next year. Abortion policy at the state level “will likely continue much as it is now,” DeSanctis predicts. “As a result of this unsettled status quo, I expect there will be an increased focus on abortion at the federal level, as both sides attempt to codify some kind of national consensus on abortion.”

Audrey Baker is an intern for The Dispatch.