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Ohio's top court rejects case challenging abortion rights amendment petitions

Petition circulator gathers signatures for Ohio reproductive rights petitions at the Ohio Statehouse
Jo Ingles
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Petition circulator gathers signatures for Ohio reproductive rights petitions at the Ohio Statehouse

The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit brought by two Southwest Ohio residents against the Ohio Ballot Board for not splitting the proposed reproductive rights amendment into multiple parts.

The Republican dominated Ohio Ballot Board allowed the amendment to stay in one petition. That reproductive rights amendment, if passed, would enshrine contraceptive, abortion and miscarriage treatment access into the state’s constitution.

Backers are circulating petitions now in 44 Ohio counties to put the issue on the ballot. They have until July 5 to come up with nearly 414,000 valid petition signatures to put the issue before voters in November.

Two Southwest Ohio residents who thought the petition should be separated into two issues filed suit with the Ohio Supreme Court after the Ballot Board’s March 13 decision to keep the petition as one.

If the Ohio Supreme Court had ruled it needed to be in two or more parts, it could have sent petitioners, who have been gathering signatures on the proposed amendment since mid-March, back to the drawing board.

The lawsuit's dismissal doesn't mean smooth sailing for backers of the proposed reproductive rights amendment.

Majority Republicans in the Ohio Legislature plan to put a proposed constitutional change before voters in a special Aug. 8 election that would make it harder to pass future constitutional amendments. That change would include increasing the threshold for passage of future amendments to 60% instead of the current 50% plus one. It would also require signatures from all 88 Ohio counties instead of the current 44 county mandate. And it would eliminate what is known as a "cure period" — the time after submitting petitions during which backers can gather additional signatures to cure those that might be deemed ineligible.

Majority Ohio Republicans, who oppose abortion rights, want voters to pass that constitutional change and put it in effect before the November election. That would mean the abortion amendment would need to pass by 60% or more. Most polls show it could pass with a margin over 50% but under 60%. The other part of the change regarding petition signatures wouldn't apply to anything on the ballot in November but would apply after that.

Democrats and many Republicans, including former governors and attorney generals, have come out against the proposed constitutional change, saying it would apply to all future constitutional amendments. And they note some key economic programs approved by voters in the past wouldn't have been possible if this proposed change in the constitution were in place.

Two lawsuits are pending with the court over the proposed constitutional amendment issue. One questions the summary language voters will see on the ballot because it doesn't provide a description of the current process and opponents claim it's misleading.

Another lawsuit contends the planned Aug. 8 ballot isn't legal because lawmakers passed a bill in December that eliminated most August elections due to low turnouts and high costs. The Ohio Supreme Court hasn't ruled on either of those lawsuits and there's no guarantee when, or if, it will.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.