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What happens to the proposed Ohio abortion amendment now that Issue 1 has failed?

Tobi Furman and Maureen Reedy of Columbus carry signs at abortion rights rally at the Ohio Statehouse on May 14, 2022
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau
Tobi Furman and Maureen Reedy of Columbus carry signs at an abortion rights rally at the Ohio Statehouse on May 14, 2022.

Opponents of Issue 1 barely had time to celebrate their victory at the ballot box before they turned their attention to the next fight – a proposed amendment planned for the November ballot that, if passed, would put reproductive rights into the state's constitution.

Work has already begun to pass the amendment, and it will ramp up even more now, said Dr. Lauren Beene, one of the doctors who is leading the charge.

Ohio's ban on abortion at the point fetal cardiac activity is detected – about six weeks into a pregnancy — went into effect right after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. And Beene, a pediatrician, said it had a devastating effect.

“I had to field calls from the mother of a 13-year-old patient of mine who was worried that her child might need birth control in case she were the victim of sexual assault. I talked to terrified parents as well as confused and distraught teenagers, and it was terrible," Beene said.

The six-week ban, commonly known as the Heartbeat Law, was put on hold by a Hamilton County court last fall. But it could be reinstated any day. And that’s something Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis, who supported Issue 1, said he hopes will happen soon.

“I think the Ohio Supreme Court will rule in our favor, ultimately. It might be before November or after November," Gonidakis said.

Changes could be made to the abortion ban now on hold by court

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, an ardent opponent of abortion rights and also an Issue 1 supporter, has said he would like Ohio lawmakers to come back into session to make changes to the so-called Heartbeat law.

“When the average person in the public goes in and votes on that, they are going to compare that with whatever the status quo is, whatever our current law is," DeWine said back in April.

When putting the six-week ban on hold, the Hamilton County Court said it was too vague, after hearing stories from women who said their lives were in danger because they couldn’t access abortions, even though the law does allow for abortions when the life of the mother is threatened.

There were also questions about the law after a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim made national news for having to go to Indiana to get an abortion. The law doesn’t contain exceptions for rape or incest.

DeWine doesn't specify the changes he thinks should be made. But polling in recent years has shown more Ohioans favor abortion rights in cases of rape, incest or when the health or life of the mother is in jeopardy. Surveys have also shown greater support for abortion in earlier stages.

For his part, Gonidakis said he doesn’t think the law should be changed.

“I don’t think there’s any policy fixes with the heartbeat bill that is needed in my humble opinion. If the legislature thinks otherwise, obviously they are there and I am not. And the governor can weigh in on that too," Gonidakis said. "But I think the law is sound and that the Ohio Supreme Court will rule in our favor ultimately."

Republican Senate President Matt Huffman, a strong opponent of abortion and a key backer of Issue 1, was visibly irritated when repeatedly asked about the suggestion of the legislature coming back before the November election to clarify the six-week ban.

“I would like to hear Gov. DeWine’s suggestions as to what that should look like, one. And two, I would like to hear the Speaker of the House’s suggestions as to what he thinks that should look like also," Huffman said. "The Senate worked for about four months and had several proposals in December of last year that we tried to put forward and work with the House at the time and that we have brought to the governor, and those proposals are still out there. But I don’t know what Gov. DeWine would support, and I would like for him to publicly say that so we all know."

Huffman said passing changes to the ban could be problematic in the House because of discord between majority Republicans in that chamber.

Abortion amendment itself is at center of a court fight

The abortion amendment itself could be derailed by the Ohio Supreme Court if it rules in favor of a lawsuit filed by two Cincinnati Republicans – a former lawmaker and a failed candidate for the House. The suit argues the amendment is not valid because it didn’t specify which abortion laws would be changed by it.

Gabriel Mann, spokesman for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, said his group is confident it has met all of the ballot requirements and believes this lawsuit should be tossed.

“Anti-choice extremists know they can’t win at the ballot box so they have resorted to dirty tricks to silence the voice of Ohioans," Mann said.

Backers of the abortion amendment said the victory at the polls Tuesday are inspiring them right now. It's an indication of what's to come, said Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

"Almost everyone who voted no last night will vote yes in November," Brown said.

For now, Beene and others in the coalition backing the proposed abortion amendment are forging ahead with the fight to pass it.

“You know, moving forward, I think our biggest lesson is the power of coalitions and the power of grassroots energy and the power of the people and our voices and how that is what is really inspiring and it’s what is going to make lasting change in Ohio," Beene said.

But it won’t all be grassroots and coalitions. The proposed abortion rights amendment is expected to attract a lot of attention nationwide, and groups on both sides expect to spend millions of dollars in the fight.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.