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Debate over abortion continues in central Ohio a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned

Abortion supporters gather outside the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday to rally against the anti-abortion laws in the state.
Sam Aberle
Ohio Public Radio

Mark Harrington and organizers with Created Equal, an anti-abortion group, huddled Friday on the corners of High Street and Broad Street and 3rd Street and Broad Street in front of the Ohio Statehouse.

It's been one year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the Jackson v. Women's Health Organization decision, taking away a constitutionally-guaranteed right to an abortion. Both Harrington and his counterparts that are pro-abortion rights marked the one-year anniversary as a new decision on abortion looms over Ohio voters in two upcoming elections.

The first election in August will ask voters whether or not to raise the required threshold to amend the Ohio Constitution to 60% of voters. The second in November will ask voters whether or not to enshrine a right to an abortion in the Ohio Constitution.

A coalition of pro-abortion rights groups are still working to get enough signatures to get the amendment on the ballot. A little over 413,000 signatures are due by July 5.

Harrington, the president of Created Equal, and those who agree with him, fought for over 50 years for the Dobbs decision, but are still fighting against abortion access and a constitutional amendment that could protect abortion access in Ohio. He says his organization is still trying to change hearts and minds as he stood flanked by graphic images of aborted fetuses at all four corners of the street.

"Ohio is right now ground zero, because of the likelihood of an amendment to the Constitution that'll be on the ballot in November," Harrington said.

Abortion is legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy. When the Dobbs decision came down one year ago, Ohio attempted to enforce a previously passed “Heartbeat” law that effectively banned abortion at six weeks, but a court put that on hold in October. Ohio Republican lawmakers have yet to try and change the law again.

Kellie Copeland, the president of Pro-Choice Ohio, said one year after the Dobbs decision she is reflecting on the 100 days that the "Heartbeat" law was in effect in Ohio. She said a lot of people suffered during that time when they were denied abortions and had to seek care in other states.

"When the Supreme Court made that decision. You know, so many people felt so helpless. And we're not helpless. People can sign the petition and they can turn out to vote now in August and yes, in November," Copeland said.

Copeland did not divulge the amount of signatures her organization has collected so far, but said her group is confident it will reach the 413,000 signatures it needs to get the amendment on the ballot.

The Ohio Democratic Party on the other hand has not been shy about its success in gathering signatures. The party is part of a coalition of several groups collecting signatures and said it has collected over 100,000 so far.

Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters and Ohio House of Representatives Assistant Minority Leader Allison Russo marked Friday with a press conference looking back on the Dobbs decision last year and previewing the next few months of fighting for an abortion rights amendment.

"We're organizing in communities across the state, and we're standing in solidarity with the millions of Ohioans who are ready to tell these radical Republicans we won't go back. The easiest way to send that message is to vote," Walters said.

Russo and Walters also criticized many Ohio Republicans and U.S. Senate candidates for their positions on abortion. They also urged voters to vote against Issue 1 that is on the ballot in August.

If passed, Issue 1 would make it harder to pass constitutional amendments in Ohio by raising the threshold to amend the Ohio Constitution to 60% of voters.

Walters, Russo, Copeland and even Harrington are clear that the August election and the November abortion rights amendment are connected.

"It's a corrupt power grab by special interest in the politicians who continue to do their bidding, and it's clear what their end goal is. It is a total ban on abortion," Russo said.

Harrington said his group is also messaging about the Aug. 8 election to people. Unlike Democrats and pro-abortion rights groups, he wants people to vote yes in August and no in November.

Copeland said voters need to vote no in August and yes in November and wasn't too worried about the two different votes confusing people. She said she's taken to calling it the "yes-no campaign."

"I think that Ohioans are dialed in on these issues. I think they care passionately about their ability to bring issues to the ballot and have a say," Copeland said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.