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Analysis: What does Issue 1's defeat mean for Ohio's abortion rights amendment?

People celebrating with smiles and their arms in the air. A woman holds a sign in the air that reads "ohioans for reproductive rights"
Jay LaPrete
/
AP
People celebrate the defeat of Issue 1 during a watch party Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Columbus. Ohio voters have resoundingly rejected a Republican-backed measure that would have made it more difficult to pass abortion protections.

When it comes to abortion rights in Ohio, the preliminary bout is over, with the win going to the abortion rights side.

But the featured fight on the card is yet to come — on Nov. 7, Election Day in Ohio.

That's when Ohio voters will decide a constitutional amendment called "The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety."

Issue 1, the constitutional amendment that went down in defeat by a wide margin last week, was pretty much a proxy battle over abortion rights.

The 60% threshold for passage of a constitutional amendment was a last ditch effort by Ohio Republicans and anti-abortion groups to make it nearly impossible for an abortion rights amendment on the November ballot to pass.

Their attempt to move the goal posts failed miserably.

Now, after millions of dollars spent by both sides and an August election that cost Ohio taxpayers $16 million, we move on to the abortion rights movement's answer to the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Does the fact that last week's Issue 1 was such a failure predict a victory for abortion rights groups in November?

Yes, say the people who backed the "no" vote on Issue 1 and a "yes" vote on the November ballot.

RELATED: See how each Ohio county voted on Issue 1

After all, they say, the results of Issue 1 showed that at least 20% of Ohio's Republican voters voted against the ballot issue. And the only poll on Ohioans' attitude toward abortion rights, done by USA Today/Suffolk University, showed that 58% support making abortion legal.

But, the anti-abortion rights groups, led by Ohio Right to Life, say the Republicans who voted ''no" on Issue 1 saw the 60% standard as an overreach and will return to the fold and vote their anti-abortion beliefs on Nov. 7.

Are the anti-abortion groups being delusional in thinking they can win the November ballot issue?

Probably, but not necessarily, said David Niven, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.

"They have a 'puncher's chance' of defeating this," said Niven, referring to the old boxing term for an outmatched fighter who is going to lose unless he can land a few lucky punches.

But, he said, that is unlikely.

"There's not a single poll that says Ohio voters have an appetite for banning abortion,'' Niven said.

If Ohio Republicans and the anti-abortion rights forces thought they could win outright in November, they wouldn't have cooked up an August election to change the rules.

"If they believe any of this, they wouldn't have wasted a penny on Issue 1 and saved their millions for the November ballot issue,'' Niven said.

But Mark Weaver, a longtime Republican political strategist in Ohio, says the result of the Issue 1 vote was more about voter confusion than support for abortion rights.

"Tens of millions in dark money was put into this campaign by the abortion industry," Weaver said. "It was a confusing issue. Yes, there were people who oppose abortion who voted no, but when faced with a ballot issue that they don't really understand, that is confusing, they more often than not vote no," Weaver said.

During the Issue 1 campaign, opponents of Issue 1 were seen wearing t-shirts and holding campaign signs, saying Not Just No, But Hell No."

"For November, maybe the pro-life people could just swap t-shirts and signs," Weaver said. "It would be good if they would wash them first."

RELATED: Key Issue 1 backer says November vote may not be the last on abortion in Ohio

Elizabeth Marbach, communications director of Ohio Right to Life, agreed that there was a lot of voter confusion over Issue 1.

"There was a lot of confusion, a lot of mixed messages being sent and pro-life people who just didn't like the 60% threshold," Marchand said. "A lot of them will come home in November and defeat the amendment.

"This issue on the ballot in November amounts to state-sanctioned murder," she added. "Our constitution is meant to preserve rights, not take them away. If this is passed, murder will be sanctioned in the Ohio constitution."

The abortion rights amendment, Marchand said, would open up transgender operations to teens without parental permission and allow a doctor to authorize a woman's abortion right up until birth.

These are "loopholes" in the amendment that the abortion rights groups say simply don't exist. Indeed, there's no evidence that they do. You can read the amendment for yourself.

Ohio will become the seventh state to vote on an abortion rights issue since Roe v. Wade was overturned in July 2022.

In all six other states, the abortion rights side has won — including in deeply red states like Kansas and Kentucky.

Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters said Ohioans who support abortion rights should not get too cocky about their chances in November.

"I think that Ohioans overwhelmingly support abortion rights," Walters said. "But this will be a tough campaign. Every election is a unique fight.

"Issue 1 is one battle we have won," Walters continued. "We have one battle yet to be decided."

If Ohio Republicans were smart, Niven said, they would reach out to the other side and make a compromise.

But, he said, "that's a non-starter. Republicans just aren't going to do that."

ANALYSIS: Your vote on Ohio Issue 1 directly impacted November's vote on abortion. Here's how

Gov. Mike DeWine, who laid low during the Issue 1 fight, suggested last week that there might be room for compromise on Ohio abortion laws, but quickly dropped the subject.

"It's fascinating how far (anti-abortion leaders) have to go to find excuses for what happened on Issue 1," Niven said.

He suggested looking at the results in deeply red Delaware County, just north of Columbus. The vote last Tuesday in this very Republican county was 57% on the no side.

"Reproductive rights will win in November in Delaware County," Niven said. "And if they can't win there, it's hard to imagine where they can win."

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Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.