Ohioans reject constitutional change that would have blocked abortion rights amendment

Ohio voters on Tuesday decisively voted against a proposal that would have made it harder to amend the state constitution, delivering a major victory to abortion rights supporters ahead of a November vote on enshrining reproductive rights in the state constitution.


What was Issue 1 and why was it controversial?

Issue 1 was the only question on the ballot in Ohio’s 8 August special election. It asked voters to decide whether to raise the threshold of support required for future state constitutional amendments to 60%. Currently, just a majority is needed.

The measure also proposed toughening rules for groups trying to place future measures on the ballot by requiring them to obtain signatures from voters in all of Ohio’s 88 counties, instead of the 44 now required. In addition, the measure would have eliminated a 10-day “curing” period during which groups are allowed to gather additional signatures to replace any previous signatures that officials deem invalid.

Issue 1 was championed by Ohio’s Republican-led legislature and the state’s chief election official, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose. They claimed that Issue 1 was about protecting the Ohio constitution from outside moneyed interests and making it more representative of the state’s diverse population.

However, opponents of Issue 1 – a diverse and bipartisan coalition – insisted that it was actually an effort to block the abortion rights amendment, which is scheduled to be on the ballot in November. The amendment would protect abortion access up until fetal viability (around 24 weeks of pregnancy) and prohibit any laws that interfere with a person’s right to choose.

Opponents argued that Issue 1 would make it nearly impossible for citizens to amend the constitution and give more power to politicians and special interests. They also pointed out that several Republican lawmakers and Mr. LaRose himself had admitted that Issue 1 was motivated by their opposition to abortion rights.

How did Ohioans vote and what are the implications?

According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, with 100% of precincts reporting, 57.4% of voters rejected Issue 1, while 42.6% supported it. The turnout was low, as expected for a special election, with only about 12% of registered voters casting ballots.

The defeat of Issue 1 means that the abortion rights amendment will require just a simple majority to pass in November. Polls suggest that the amendment has strong support among Ohioans, with about 58% in favor and 36% opposed, according to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in July.

The result is a clear win for reproductive rights advocates in Ohio, who have faced a barrage of anti-abortion legislation from the Republican-controlled statehouse in recent years. Currently, a six-week abortion ban is on hold while a legal challenge proceeds. If abortion becomes illegal in Ohio, the consequences will be felt by millions in neighboring states, including Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, where abortion access has already been severely restricted.

The outcome is also another victory more broadly for abortion rights groups, who have enjoyed a clean sweep of victories in all seven states where, in the 14 months since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, abortion rights were on the ballot. Tuesday’s outcome further demonstrates how abortion remains a major liability for GOP candidates. Polling has shown that voters across the country broadly favor abortion protections – a fact that Democrats put at the center of a successful strategy last year to keep control of the U.S. Senate, fend off a red wave in the House and win several governorships.

How did both sides react to the result?

Groups that worked to defeat Issue 1, as well as Democrats at the state and national level, lauded the decisive win – with even President Joe Biden weighing in.

“Issue 1 was an attack on democracy and reproductive freedom,” Biden said in a statement. “I applaud Ohioans for standing up for their constitutional rights and rejecting this dangerous measure.”

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said that voters had sent a clear message to lawmakers that they want them to stop interfering with personal health care decisions.

“Today’s victory is just the beginning,” she said. “We look forward to working with our partners across the state to pass the abortion rights amendment in November and secure reproductive freedom for all Ohioans.”

Mr. LaRose conceded defeat and congratulated the opponents of Issue 1 for their successful campaign. He said he still believed that Issue 1 was a good idea and hoped that it would be revisited in the future.

“I think it’s important that we have a high bar for amending our constitution,” he said. “I think it’s important that we have broad geographic representation when we do so.”

He also said he respected the right of Ohioans to vote on the abortion rights amendment in November, but reiterated his personal opposition to it.

“I’m pro-life,” he said. “I think many Ohioans are as well. And I think this is a radical pro-abortion amendment that goes way beyond anything that most Ohioans would support.”

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