After Issue 1 vote, abortion fight moves to Statehouse, courts

Local lawmakers are among a group of Ohio House Republicans who proposed last week undermining the powers of the Ohio Supreme Court in order to protect the state’s existing abortion laws that could soon become unconstitutional.

The announcement came after 56.6% of Ohio voters approved Issue 1, an amendment that guarantees an individual’s access to abortion for any reason up to fetal viability, usually around 22 to 24 weeks. The amendment threatens a slew of Ohio laws, including six-week and 20-week abortion bans, mandatory waiting periods, mandatory transfer agreements between abortion providers and hospitals, laws banning abortions motivated by Down syndrome and others.

“We will withdraw jurisdiction from the courts so that they can not misapply Issue 1 for the benefit of the abortion industry,” Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, told this news outlet on Friday.

Gross joined three of her anti-abortion colleagues, including Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, in an official statement titled, “Deceptive Ohio Issue 1 misled the public but doesn’t repeal our laws.”

The statement asserts that “the Ohio legislature alone will consider what, if any, modifications to make to existing laws,” but the Butler County representative didn’t respond to a request for clarity on how the state’s lawmakers could alter the Ohio Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over constitutionality.

The Montgomery County Democratic Party responded on X (formerly Twitter), calling the proposal “unhinged” as Ohio House Democrats announced their new Reproductive Care Act, a law that would repeal various existing laws that directly or indirectly restrict abortion care in Ohio.

As lawmakers on both sides of the issue brace for a Statehouse faceoff, abortion-rights advocates prepare to take the fight to the courts and challenge the constitutionality of various Ohio abortion laws once the amendment goes into effect on Dec. 7.

‘There’s gonna be a lot of lawsuits’

Jessie Hill, a legal professor at Case Western Reserve and an attorney that frequently works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio to challenge the state’s abortion laws, told this news outlet that she was optimistic about their day in court.

“(Issue 1) provides a really strong new argument for us,” Hill said.

Already, there are several challenges of Ohio abortion law before the court, including the state’s 6-week abortion ban, a law that requires “fetal remains” from surgical abortions to be cremated or buried, a law that bans telehealth sessions being used for medication abortion, and a mandatory transfer agreement law.

Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, whose office is responsible for defending the state’s laws from constitutional challenges, released an analysis before the election of which laws would become vulnerable if Issue 1 passed.

Yost determined that the state’s pre-viability abortion bans would certainly be overturned, along with laws barring abortions motivated by Down syndrome diagnoses and all other laws preventing discriminatory motive and laws banning specific methods of abortion.

Other laws that would probably be overturned, Yost said, included mandatory waiting periods, informed consent laws, and a post-viability abortion restriction that requires the mother’s health issues to be certified by a second doctor and requires the provider to make best efforts to save the aborted fetus.

Margie Christie, executive director of Dayton Right to Life, said she was worried about the cost and uncertainty about figuring out Issue 1′s impact through the courts.

“I think there’s gonna be a lot of lawsuits and it’s going to cost taxpayers a lot of money here as we fight back and forth,” Christie said. “They’re going to eventually have to decide if parental rights is constitutional, so that’s going to have to be a court case; they’re gonna have to decide if the abortion pill is constitutional now; they’re gonna have to decide if transgender surgeries are part of ‘reproductive freedom’ (and decide) if that’s constitutional now, too.”

Political ramifications

On election night, Republican leaders of the House and Senate suggested that the legislature still had, and planned to take, pathways to push back on Ohio’s vote. Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, hinted at the possibility of using the state’s GOP supermajority to place new amendments on the ballot in the future to either repeal or replace Issue 1.

But there are signs that their messaging isn’t exactly reverberating with everyone in their caucus, including with Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, an anti-abortion lawmaker who is losing faith with leadership’s ability to win on this issue.

“I don’t think this is over by any means, but in order to advance the pro-life cause, I think we need to think strategically and I don’t know that the current leadership has been doing that,” said Antani, who partially blamed November’s loss on the GOP’s failed attempt to raise the threshold necessary to pass constitutional amendments back in August.

Antani said the Senate’s immediate focus should be on banning abortions after the point of viability, which is allowed under Issue 1.

In the House, some Republicans, including Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, believe that pushing back against Issue 1 would be an unwise move for Republicans’ future electability.

“As far as Issue 1, I don’t see what we can do. I don’t think anything we do will make — it won’t make Republicans look good, I think it will kill Republicans,” Carruthers said. “I think people will say we’re not listening to our constituents, which is what I think it is. We are always going to lose on abortion, and if people don’t see that, I don’t know why not. It’s a nationwide thing.”

Some Democrats, like Jocelyn Rhynard, who sits on the Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio board and Dayton Board of Education, were emboldened by last week’s vote and would welcome Republicans to take their shot against Issue 1.

“If people would like to bring a ballot initiative to restrict the right to abortion, I would like to see them try — especially in the wake of an overwhelming affirmation of a woman’s right to choose. This is important to women in Ohio, this is important to voters in Ohio, and if they want to continue down a path that is unpopular with voters, that is fine with me,” Rhynard said.

About the Author