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A Proxy Fight Over Abortion in Ohio
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A Proxy Fight Over Abortion in Ohio

Tuesday’s vote—ostensibly related to ballot-initiative requirements—has national implications.

Happy Wednesday! A hearty congratulations to Kimberly Winter, a 33 year old from Virginia who recently achieved a level of greatness few will ever know: the loudest burp by a woman in recorded history.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories 

  • President Joe Biden designated a new national monument on Tuesday on nearly one million acres of land in Arizona near the Grand Canyon. The designation of the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni/Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument will protect land considered sacred to local Native American tribes and permanently ban new uranium mining claims, though existing claims in the area rich in deposits of the mineral that’s critical for nuclear power production will be unaffected by the order.
  • In a 5-4 ruling that saw Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett join the body’s liberal bloc, the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Biden administration to temporarily reinstate regulations on “ghost guns”—kits that allow the buyer to build their own untraceable firearms at home—pending further litigation. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ 2022 rules expanded the agency’s interpretation of what constitutes a “firearm,” requiring the kits’ sellers to be licensed, conduct background checks on buyers, and mark the products with serial numbers. The rule was originally struck down by a federal judge in July after gun advocates filed suit.
  • Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited Niger on Monday, meeting with leaders of the military junta that took control of the West African country on July 26. Nuland told reporters  mutineers kept her from seeing the country’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, currently being held in his home with his wife and child. Yesterday, the coup leaders barred a U.S.-backed peace delegation dispatched by West African governments from entry into the country, ramping up the risk of war in the region.
  • A Moscow court froze $36 million in assets held by Goldman Sachs earlier this month after a suit by a U.S.-sanctioned Russian bank against Goldman. Otkritie, the Russian bank, claimed Goldman wished to leave Russia, which would render the $6.4 million debt it owed Otkritie unpayable. Goldman Sachs has sought to wind down its Russia-based business since 2022, a task made more difficult by restrictions on deals involving foreign banks in the country.  
  • Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk’s weight-loss drug, Wegovy, also reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular death by about 20 percent, according to preliminary results of a large, company-funded study that were released Tuesday. The secondary effects of the drug targeted at those with diabetes is likely to put additional pressure on insurers to cover medicines like Wegovy that are in a new class of weight-loss drugs produced by both Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, its American competitor. Lilly’s drug, Mounjaro, is likely to be approved by U.S. regulators as a weight loss drug later this year, and Novo Nordisk said it will ask regulators in the U.S. and Europe to add its heart-healthy benefits to its prescribing label.
  • The Australian Federal Police (AFP) announced Tuesday that 19 Australian men had been arrested on charges of circulating child sex abuse material online and 13 children were saved from further harm in the latest salvo of a joint operation with the FBI that has now led to nearly 100 arrests in both countries. The joint investigation, which began in 2022, has resulted in 79 arrests in the U.S. related to an international network of pedophiles using detailed I.T. knowledge to share abusive content on the dark web.
  • Celeste Drake, President Joe Biden’s top labor adviser, stepped down Tuesday amid a summer of elevated action by organized labor. Drake will join the International Labor Organization, a United Nations’ agency, as deputy director-general. Drake’s replacement, who has not yet been named, will be facing talks between Hollywood actors, writers, and studios and auto workers threatening strikes during negotiations with Detroit’s Big Three auto companies.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has replaced his campaign manager, Generra Peck, as his presidential campaign continues its reset amid a sustained drop in the polls. Peck will transition to a strategist role and will be succeeded by James Uthmeier, formerly chief of staff of DeSantis’ gubernatorial administration in Florida. Several DeSantis sources blamed Peck for the campaign’s early overspending which led to two rounds of staffing cuts last month.
  • Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Tony Grady jumped into a growing Republican field seeking to topple incumbent Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada on Tuesday after finishing second in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor in 2022. Three other Republicans are also vying for the GOP nod, including military veteran Sam Brown and former Ambassador Jeff Gunter, who announced his candidacy earlier this week. 

Another Electoral Loss for the Pro-Life Movement 

Anit-abortion activists hold signs outside the Supreme Court after the court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds / AFP/Getty Images)
Anit-abortion activists hold signs outside the Supreme Court after the court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds / AFP/Getty Images)

If you were a pro-life Republican, Ohio’s “Issue 1” ballot initiative represented an opportunity to prevent out-of-state liberal groups from implementing their abortion agenda. If you were pro-abortion access, the initiative reflected a naked attempt by Republicans in the state legislature to block voters from enacting their policy preferences. If you were a business group, Issue 1 offered insurance against populist economic policies like minimum wage hikes. If you were a union, you worried it could weaken an important check on lawmakers’ ability to curtail collective bargaining power. And if you read the ballot initiative itself, you would see that all it would do is slightly adjust signature requirements and the threshold for proposed amendments to the state constitution.

More than 3 million people turned out in yesterday’s off-cycle special election—about 4.1 million cast ballots in last fall’s high-profile U.S. Senate race—to vote on Issue 1, a constitutional amendment passed by the state legislature in May that would increase the required threshold for ballot-initiative amendments from 50 percent to 60 percent of votes cast and mandate petitioners secure signatures from all 88 counties in the state, up from the current specification of 44. After a high-profile campaign that came to be defined almost entirely by abortion, voters in the conservative-leaning state broke with elected Republicans and rejected the measure 57 percent to 43 percent, with 95 percent of precincts reporting .

Ohio’s law banning most abortions after six weeks of gestation—signed in 2019 but blocked from going into effect—snapped into place last year after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision before quickly being put on hold once again due to another challenge. The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to issue a more final verdict, but pro-abortion access groups, seeing the writing on the wall, began taking steps earlier this year to pursue a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution. Similar measures in other states have proven successful at the ballot box over the past year.

To make these activists’ jobs more challenging, the Republican-led state legislature passed a constitutional amendment of its own—but ironically, it needed to receive majority support when put to a public vote. Proponents framed Issue 1 as a bulwark against special interests bypassing the legislature to pursue their own agenda through ballot initiatives that often garner limited voter turnout. “Under Ohio’s current system, all that’s needed to amend our state’s governing document is to gather petitions to put an amendment on the statewide ballot, fund a dishonest ad campaign, and win a simple majority vote,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose—a Republican who recently announced a bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2024—wrote this week. “The point of Issue 1 is not to prevent citizens from amending their constitution, but to ensure that amendments are rare and reflect a durable statewide consensus.”

That’s a perfectly plausible constitutional argument—amending the U.S. Constitution is of course an even more strenuous process and many states have no ballot-initiative amendment process at all—but it also obscures what was clearly the ulterior motive behind the move. Even LaRose himself admitted as much. “This is 100 percent about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” he said at a Seneca County GOP event in May.

And sure enough, by July, Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, a pro-abortion access coalition, secured enough signatures to get a constitutional amendment establishing the right to an abortion on the ballot in November. It was polling remarkably well, with surveys suggesting well more than 50 percent of Ohio voters planned to vote for it. Issue 1, therefore, essentially became about whether that future initiative would pass. Groups supporting Issue 1 spent $10.7 million on ads while their opponents spent $15.9 million, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact—with both sides receiving significant funding from out-of-state donors. “I’ve been in Ohio for 39 years,” Jonathan Entin, a politics and law professor at Case Western Reserve University, tells TMD. “This is the first time that Ohio has had a big push to change the rules about constitutional amendments.”

In a sign of how yesterday’s vote was likely to go, even some onetime high-ranking Republicans in the state—including former Govs. Bob Taft and John Kasich—opposed the measure. “I just think it’s a major mistake to approve or disapprove such a change at the lowest-turnout election that we have,” Taft said—turnout for the special election held last August was a paltry 8 percent. Backers of the amendment may have been banking on similarly low turnout to help usher their initiative past the finish line, but that strategy backfired. Early voting alone exceeded last August’s total turnout—and yesterday’s total turnout was the largest the state had seen in a non-general election since 2016.

It’s easy to see why, when you look at the kind of rhetoric both sides of the debate were throwing around ahead of the vote. One ad in favor of Issue 1 argued the amendment would help curtail the influence of ‘radical’ out-of-state groups trying to shred parental consent and push gender reassignment surgeries on minors. A (very NSFW) spot in opposition to the measure argued it would lead to Republicans banning contraceptives. Failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake traveled to Ohio this week to rally for the measure, and former Vice President Mike Pence cut a video encouraging Ohioans to support it. 

The issue didn’t fall entirely along predictable ideological lines, though. The Ohio Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)—not exactly a progressive group—opposed Issue 1, for example, not because of abortion, but because of the specter of future right-to-work laws. The FOP wanted to preserve the lower vote threshold as a counterweight against any legislative effort to weaken the union’s collective bargaining power. “We don’t get involved in issues that don’t relate to law enforcement,” said Gary Wolske, the President of Ohio FOP. “All the rhetoric that’s been out there about why this amendment is coming up now, we’re not interested in that. Our members are on both sides of pretty much every fence, and we’re only concerned about the things that affect us.”

On the other side of the debate, business and trade groups—including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation—backed Issue 1 as a protective layer against citizen-led efforts like the minimum-wage hikes or heightened livestock standards. “The business community is usually the one left holding the bag when these initiatives make it to the ballot,” said Steve Stivers, a former Republican congressman who now serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. “We’d rather make it harder for that bad idea to make it on the ballot than have to raise $3 to $5 million every time to fight it.”

But by far the biggest takeaway from yesterday’s vote—and one that will be explored in more detail in today’s Dispatch Politics newsletteris the pro-life movement’s continued post-Dobbs losing streak at the ballot box. As we reported this spring, plenty of individual pro-life politicians have won impressive victories. Heck, Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine—who signed the state’s 2019 Heartbeat Bill into law—was re-elected last fall 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent. But if voters are presented with an isolated choice on their preferred abortion policy regime, the less restrictive option has won just about every single time. In Wisconsin and Michigan, sure, but even in solidly red states like Kansas and Kentucky. Moving forward, expect Democrats to explore any vehicle to ensure the issue is on the ballot to motivate their voters to turn out.

Many pro-life activists are sounding the alarm over the need for a new approach, well aware that continued losses could lead party-first Republicans to deprioritize the issue moving forward. “The Ohio result tonight, coming on the heels of the shellacking in Michigan and the unexpected loss in Kentucky, needs to be a five-alarm fire for the pro-life movement,” said Patrick Brown, a pro-life advocate and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“Pro-life politicians can—and do—win even after signing fairly aggressive pro-life laws,” he added. “The issue is that the pro-choice side beats the pro-life side when the issue is heads-up in the ballot box.” 

Worth Your Time

  • In a piece for the Atlantic, Jerusalem Demsas reports on one Washington, D.C. man’s crusade against some saplings and what it says about local democracy. “How could a few trees constitute a threat to public safety or property values? Were these trees particularly ugly? And who was behind D.C. Councilman Trayon White’s push to get them removed?” she writes. “I wanted to see the trees for myself. I visited the quiet residential street on three separate occasions, asking people if they had any thoughts about the trees. No one I interviewed registered strong opinions, or had even heard of the controversy. So who forms ‘the community’ so opposed to the trees? His name is Darryl Ross. He is treasurer of the Ward 8 Democrats and of White’s constituent-services fund. When White refers to constituent outreach to his office over this issue, he’s talking about Ross. There’s no magical threshold at which elected officials become democratically legitimate. But more than half of eligible voters routinely show up for federal and state contests while our municipal elections struggle to top 15 percent. What we’re seeing in local governments is a crisis of democracy unparalleled at other levels of government. When we collectively feel entitled to hold the government accountable, that’s democracy. But when individuals do, that’s something else: institutional capture.”

Presented Without Comment

Associated Press: China Releases TV Documentary Showcasing Army’s Ability to Attack Taiwan

Also Presented Without Comment

The Times of London: “Public funds were used to buy 22 copies of a book titled How To Run A Government while [former Scottish National Party leader] Nicola Sturgeon was in office, it was revealed in a tranche of data on government spending.”

Also Also Presented Without Comment

NBC News: Subway Says Nearly 10,000 People Have Offered to Legally Change Their Names to ‘Subway’ to Get Free Sandwiches for Life

Toeing the Company Line

  • A note to our readers: You may have received duplicate emails of two of our newsletters yesterday, Uphill and Boiling Frogs. We are working to make some improvements to our publishing system, and we experienced some errors during the testing process. We apologize for overloading your inbox—thank you for your patience!
  • What’s going on in Niger? Is DeSantis’ campaign still on the rocks? How big a deal is the U.S. credit rating downgrade? Kevin was joined by Mike, Charlotte, Grayson, and Mary to discuss all that and more on last night’s Dispatch Live (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here.
  • In the newsletters: Price sits down with freshman Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson of North Carolina and Nick weighs in (🔒) on DeSantis’ umpteenth reset and whether his campaign was ever actually about competence and electability. 
  • On the podcasts: National Review’s Andy McCarthy joins Jonah on the Remnant to discuss his theory of the latest Trump indictment. 
  • On the site: Jonah argues America let Trump get away with too much and Walter Olson breaks down Elon Musk’s strange promise to pay the legal fees of people fired for tweeting.

Let Us Know

If you were presented with a choice like the one Ohioans had yesterday, are you generally in favor of more direct democracy or representative democracy?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Jacob Wendler is an intern for The Dispatch.