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Referendum change, abortion rights amendment could both appear on November ballot

Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau

Ohio lawmakers didn’t pass a proposal to ask voters to make it harder to pass future constitutional amendments in time for the May ballot. One key legislative leader has suggested it could be on the November ballot.

But backers of a possible amendment on reproductive rights are warning against that idea.

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said the proposal to require at least 60% voter approval for future constitutional amendments could still end up on the November ballot.

Lawmakers would have to pass a resolution to put it on the ballot at least 90 days ahead of that election. Some majority Republican legislators tried to pass the resolution during lame-duck session but it failed. A renewed effort to pass a resolution by Feb. 1 to get it on the May ballot didn't come to fruition.

There are reasons why some Republican leaders see a sense of urgency in putting an issue before voters to make it harder to pass constitutional amendments.

Groups that want to change Ohio's redistricting process, allow for a minimum wage increase, or put abortion rights in the constitution are getting ready to mobilize on those issues.

Two different groups have been working on a proposed constitutional amendment to protect certain abortion rights.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio, is part of a coalition of groups that has hired a national campaign strategist and is testing language for a proposed constitutional amendment.

Copeland cautioned GOP leaders who might want to go for the proposed referendum change in November.

“If we need to beat back a 60% threshold and pass a reproductive freedom ballot issue at the same time, we will," Copeland said.

Copeland said the coalition hasn’t decided to go for it this November or next. But she said the group is working with lawyers, political strategists and ordinary Ohioans to "get this right."

"We know how critically important this is for Ohioans who want to be able to have a voice, to be able to make their own reproductive health care decisions," Copeland said.

Mike Gonidakis, Ohio Right to Life president, has said his heart tells him abortion rights advocates will end up putting the issue on the November 2024 ballot for several reasons.

“One there will be higher turnout because it’s a presidential election year. Senator Sherrod Brown is going to be up for reelection in the general election,” Gonidakis said.

Gonidakis said Brown, a Democrat, will be able to draw a lot of money to Ohio which would benefit abortion rights supporters as well.

An abortion ban that prevented the practice once fetal electronic cardiac activity is detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, was in effect this past summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

But a Hamilton County Court put that ban on hold this fall, saying it was vague. So Ohio women seeking abortions can access them up to 22 weeks of gestation at this point.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.