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Ohio Senate Leader says after Issue 1 vote, abortion won't be back on the ballot soon

Ohio Senate President Huffman talking to reporters November 15, 2023
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Senate President Huffman talking to reporters November 15, 2023

The Republican leader of the Ohio Senate says he doesn’t want an abortion amendment to change parts of Issue 1 passed by voters earlier this month to go before voters soon.

On Election Night, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) issued a statement saying he thinks there would be a “revolving door of ballot campaigns to repeal or replace Issue 1.” But Huffman said that doesn’t mean he wants to see another abortion amendment on the ballot right away.

“I don’t think there, certainly, should be anything on the ballot, certainly in '24 and we will have to see about that going forward," Huffman said.

Ohio's 2024 primary is in March, and the contests for the Republican nominations for president and U.S. Senate are likely to bring out GOP voters. But Huffman said, "I didn't say anything about putting something on the ballot in March."

Abortion also played a key role in the August special election, in which voters rejected a proposal to require 60% voter approval to pass future constitutional amendments. The abortion and reproductive rights amendment passed with just under 57%.

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Gov. Mike DeWine, who both strongly opposed Issue 1, have also said an abortion issue shouldn’t be on the ballot next year.

Huffman said he thinks there need to be meaningful discussions before deciding how to proceed when it comes to abortion restrictions in Ohio.

“I think it’s a discussion that is in the future, that we are going to have a lot of public input. There is going to have to be a lot of soul-searching in the pro-life community and with a lot of other folks about what the next steps forward are," Huffman said.

Huffman's takeaway from passage of Issue 1, the amendment that enshrines abortion rights into the state constitution, boils down to a simple principle.

"People don't like the government telling them what to do," Huffman said.

Voters also approved Issue 2, which legalizes recreational marijuana for Ohioans over 21.

A 15-week abortion ban?

Some members of the legislature and groups that oppose abortion have floated the idea of a ban on abortions at 15 weeks into a pregnancy. Huffman said he thinks there is support for that as well as exceptions for rape and incest in abortion policy. But neither leader of the Senate supports that.

"Clearly there is a majority of people in Ohio who feel that way. It's not the way I feel. It's not the way I feel and it's not the way the people who elected me feel," Huffman said.

Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said of the 15-week ban: "That's something that's being floated by the Republican caucuses across the country as some kind of compromise, but that is not something the people in Ohio have weighed in on. The majority of the people in Ohio have said that they believe there should be access to abortion and some kind of guardrails."

And Antonio said Ohioans want viability to be the standard, just like it was when Roe v. Wade was in place. The newly-passed amendment guarantees the right to an abortion up to viability and beyond if a doctor deems it is proper care for the life or health of a patient.

So what happens next?

Some Democratic lawmakers in the House want the legislature to immediately repeal laws on the books that they say violate the new amendment. Both Huffman and Speaker Jason Stephens said they think it will be up to courts to decide which laws are constitutional.

House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said she suspects Ohioans will have to fight in court to scrap abortion restrictions now on the books.

"I would not be surprised if we start to see things proposed in revised code, forcing the citizens to go to court to get the rights that were earned on Election Day," Russo said.

But Antonio said given the current makeup of the Republican-dominated legislature, if they tackle abortion policy, it might not have the effect of repealing controversial abortion policies Democratic lawmakers want.

“Yes, they put hoops to jump there. There are barriers to access that make it more difficult but the bottom line is it will be legal, safe in the state of Ohio," Antonio said. "And at this moment in time, I can accept that over them trying to take away the voice of the people and take away what the people have decided."

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.