Legal abortion backers take first step to put amendment on Ohio's fall 2023 ballot
Two groups are coming together in an effort to enshrine reproductive rights into the state constitution.
Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights (OPPR) is a group of doctors and health providers. Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom (ORF) represents key groups like the ACLU of Ohio, ProChoice Ohio, and Planned Parenthood. The groups have submitted a single petition to the Ohio Attorney General's office to start the process of putting a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion and birth control rights before voters this November. It will be called the Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety amendment.
Legal counsel and representatives of both groups drafted the amendment language and summary for the proposal after looking at data, polling and research. This past weekend, over the span of two days, the group collected about seven times the 1,000 petition signatures from voters required by state law to start the process.
OPRR Executive Director Dr. Lauren Beene said Ohioans are close to losing key reproductive rights without this amendment. She said the proof was during the period of time last summer when a six-week ban, also known as the "Heartbeat ban," was in place.
“As we saw first-hand when Ohio’s abortion ban went into effect last year, withholding that care puts people’s lives and health at risk. This common sense amendment ensures that physicians will be able to provide the care our patients need and deserve free from government interference," Beene said.
That ban was eventually put on hold by a Hamilton County Court last fall after it was determined to be vague. But the state is appealing that decision, and the Republicans on the Ohio Supreme Court who comprise the majority have publicly taken anti-abortion stances.
The amendment states every individual has a right to make and carry out their own reproductive decisions. And it says the state cannot directly or indirectly interfere with, penalize or discriminate those decisions unless the state "demonstrates that it is using the least restrictive means to advance the individual's health in accordance with widely accepted and evidence-based standards of care."
But the amendment says abortion itself may be prohibited after fetal viability. It defines that as the point in a pregnancy when, in the professional judgement of the person's doctor, the fetus has a significant likelihood of survival with reasonable measures. You can read the full text of the amendment here.
Jessie Hill, an attorney who has worked closely with ORF and the ACLU of Ohio, said this proposal would amend the state constitution to affirm Ohioans' fundamental right to reproductive freedom. She said politicians should not dictate decisions women make in those areas of their lives.
“Right now, we have extremist politicians who are eager to bring back a dangerous six-week abortion ban, and who want to go even further to limit Ohioans’ reproductive freedoms. These decisions rightfully belong to patients and physicians, and that’s why we’re putting this issue before the people," Hill said.
Anti-abortion groups plan to oppose it
Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said his group has been working with others that oppose abortion and are prepared to fight the proposed amendment.
"It's so poorly drafted and vague that it's worse than we originally thought," Gonidakis said.
Gonidakis said it would allow late term abortions in Ohio and would do away with some laws now on the books like parental consent or bans on abortion when a fetus has Down Syndrome.
Ruth Edmonds with the Center for Christian Virtue's Ruth Edmonds also opposed the measure.
“This dangerous rewrite of our constitution would eliminate the basic rights of parents who would no longer need to be informed or provide consent for their minor daughter to have an abortion. It would outlaw health and safety regulations that protect women, and the proposed changes provide no protection for women who feel pressured or coerced to get an abortion. This amendment is too dangerous for Ohio," she said.
The next step in the process
Attorney General Dave Yost has up to 10 days to approve the language in the summary of the amendment. If Yost certifies the issue, the Ohio Ballot Board must schedule a hearing to determine that the language contains only one constitutional amendment. If it's approved, the amendment and its summary is filed with the Secretary of State. That's the point the petitioners may begin collecting the 413,388 valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. And those signatures must be collected and turned in by July 5, 2023.
Advocates on both sides of the issue expect to spend millions of dollars on their various campaigns.