Abortion rights groups ready 2023 ballot measure in Ohio


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two groups advocating for abortion rights planned to submit fall ballot language Tuesday for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing Ohioans’ access to abortion, an effort that opponents have vowed to fight.

The measure to be submitted to Republican Attorney General Dave Yost calls for establishing “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” for Ohioans. The language is similar to a Michigan constitutional amendment approved by voters there in November.

“The people of Ohio overwhelmingly support abortion access and keeping the government out of our personal lives,” Lauren Blauvelt, of Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, said in a statement last week.

The announcement scheduled Tuesday by Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that protected abortion rights, which shifted the contentious battle over abortion to the states.

It also comes amid efforts by state lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Ohio General Assembly to make it more difficult to amend the Ohio Constitution, by raising the threshold of votes necessary to approve changes from 50% to 60%.

Dr. Lauren Beene, executive director of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, suggested that the latter effort puts pressure on the groups to enshrine abortion protections supported by a majority of Ohioans into the state Constitution this November, rather than waiting until 2024.

As it stands, if both measures advance successfully, they will appear on the same ballot.

“We are united in purpose and by the belief that placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2023 is both a moral imperative and offers the best prospects for success,” she said in a statement on the two groups’ merger last week.

Nationally, about two-thirds of voters have said that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of over 90,000 voters across the country. Only about 1 in 10 voters said that abortion should be illegal in all cases.

The two Ohio organizations have said they represent a broad coalition of patients, doctors, reproductive rights experts, health and justice leaders and grassroots activists who span the political spectrum. They plan a well-funded, nonpartisan campaign with experienced legal counsel, public opinion researchers, strategic and communications consultants and an army of volunteers at the ready.

Still, Ohio’s powerful anti-abortion lobby is undaunted.

The state’s oldest and largest anti-abortion organization, Ohio Right to Life, has already pledged to launch what it called “the largest grassroots initiative to protect women and children in Ohio’s history.” And Cincinnati Right to Life sent a fundraising and volunteer recruitment email last week saying the state’s anti-abortion organizations have been “meeting and planning for months” in anticipation of the constitutional amendment.

The role of Yost’s office will be to determine whether the summary is a fair and truthful representation of the proposal. He also happens to have squared off against some backers of the constitutional amendment in court.

After the ruling overturning Roe said the U.S. Constitution does not protect a right to abortion, Ohio’s near-ban on abortions — from the first detection of cardiac activity, around six weeks into pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant — and others like it were quickly reinstated.

A group of Ohio clinics represented by the ACLU of Ohio withdrew their federal constitutional challenge and filed one instead under Ohio’s constitution. It argues that abortion falls under provisions of that document that protect privacy and freedom in health care decision-making, among others.

After a judge again blocked Ohio’s near-abortion ban while that lawsuit proceeds, Yost appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court to lift that stay. The high court, newly constituted with a more conservative Republican majority than it had before, has yet to rule on his request.

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