Issue 1: Both sides of Ohio’s abortion rights amendment vow further action

Credit: NYT

Credit: NYT

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, both sides of Issue 1 took reflexive pauses before offering vows of perseverance after Ohioans voted to decisively enshrine abortion access in the state constitution with 56.6% of the vote.

For abortion-rights advocates, the pause was one of jubilation. At the pro-Issue 1 watch party in Columbus, cheers from doctors, organizers and activists roared across the room as the Associated Press officially projected Issue 1 to pass.

“As we celebrate this win, we must look to the future and what comes next. We cannot and will not stop until all abortion seekers are free from restrictions, criminalization and stigma, and each of us can make our own decisions about pregnancy and parenting,” said Kimberly Inez McGuire, the executive director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equality.

McGuire credited young Ohio voters for the success of Issue 1, a citizen-spurred constitutional amendment that, starting on Dec. 7, will protect abortion access in Ohio up to the point of fetal viability, likely to be around 24 weeks, with protections thereafter for the life and health of the mother.

She didn’t describe the specific steps those who share her cause still intend to take, but it’s been clear from the beginning that Issue 1 would be used not only as a shield from any future attempts by the government to restrict abortion access, but also as a sword to nullify a slate of laws that are already on the books.

The most galvanizing law in the crosshairs is Ohio’s temporarily-blocked “heartbeat” bill, which bans abortions after embryonic cardiac activity — different from a heartbeat — which usually occurs around six weeks. The law, passed in 2019, was for years blocked by Roe v. Wade but was triggered once the Supreme Court overruled the decades-long precedent. The near-total restriction was law for six months in Ohio before a local judge paused it and its fate is now pending before the Ohio Supreme Court.

For the anti-abortion side, the laws that could be overturned by Issue 1 raise alarms. Foremost for them was the possibility that Issue 1 could overturn the Ohio law that requires a minor to receive parental consent before obtaining an abortion, though Issue 1 supporters have said the measure would not do that.

In order to overturn current laws, those laws have to be challenged and the Ohio Supreme Court needs to be swayed. Now that Issue 1 has passed, it’s up to abortion-rights organizations like the ACLU of Ohio and Planned Parenthood to pick the laws it wants to nullify and argue their case while the state defends them.

At the time of reporting, it’s not clear which laws will be challenged, but Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has said dozens of laws might be susceptible.

While some paused to celebrate Tuesday night, others paused to reflect on a losing campaign — and the loss of the state’s ability to curb abortion through law.

In a statement shortly after the race was called, the board of directors for Protect Women Ohio, a political action committee set up in opposition to Issue 1, said their hearts were broken “not because we lost an election, but because Ohio families, women and children will bear the brunt of this vote.”

The statement argued that the results of the election weren’t reflective of Ohio’s views on abortion and reasserted that negative consequences are bound to result from Issue 1′s passage.

“But rest assured: the pro-life movement is more united than ever. We stand ready during this unthinkable time to advocate for women and the unborn, just as we have always done,” the statement continued. “We persevered for 50 years to overturn Roe v Wade. Ours is a movement that has always endured, and always will. Tomorrow, the work starts again as we fight to be a voice for the voiceless and advocate for women and parents.”

That vow was echoed by the two Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate, who released separate statements hinting at nondescript “paths” that the legislature still has to push back against Issue 1, including a “revolving door of ballot campaigns to repeal or replace Issue 1.”

For U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, an anti-abortion Republican from Middletown who was active in the fight against Issue 1, Tuesday’s result offered a more contemplative pause, which brought insights that he posted on X (formerly Twitter).

In Vance’s view, anti-abortion Republicans lost Issue 1 on the backs of middle-of-the-road voters who ultimately preferred Issue 1′s protections over Ohio’s six-week abortion ban when given the choice. Vance believes those voters were lost in-part because the anti-Issue 1 campaign was outspent, but also because Ohio’s restrictive abortion measure doesn’t have caveats for cases of rape or incest, a facet of the law that Vance believes is a political loser.

Vance’s broadest insight was based on how voters tend to view Republicans’ empathy in this space.

“We have to recognize how much voters mistrust us — meaning elected Republicans — on this issue,” Vance wrote. “Having an unplanned pregnancy is scary. Best case, you’re looking at social scorn and thousands of dollars of unexpected medical bills. We need people to see us as the pro-life party, not just the anti-abortion party.”

Political analyst Kyle Kondik from the University of Virginia Center for Politics expressed a similar sentiment to this news organization.

“Democrats are just way more in tune with public opinion on abortion than Republicans are in this post-Roe world,” he said. “I don’t think this says anything about Ohio’s future competitiveness, but on this issue, Democrats are performing strongly in Ohio and elsewhere.”

In traditionally conservative Butler County, Issue 1 was supported by 50.6% of voters, according to final, unofficial results from the Ohio Secretary of State. It also passed in Montgomery (59%) and Clark (50.5%). It failed in Greene County with 50.9% of voters opposing it, along with Warren (52.5%), Miami (60.5%), Preble (63%) and Champaign (58.4%).

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