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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, September 3rd, 2023

Right wing looking for a way to defeat Ohio reproductive rights constitutional amendment

Repub­li­cans in Ohio, con­fi­dent they are unchal­lenged rulers of what has become a solid­ly red state, may be labor­ing under a misconception.

The Buck­eye State will vote Novem­ber 7th on Issue 1, an amend­ment to the Ohio Con­sti­tu­tion which pro­claims: “Every indi­vid­ual has a right to make and car­ry out one’s own repro­duc­tive rights.” The deci­sions include con­tra­cep­tion, fer­til­i­ty treat­ment, con­tin­u­ing one’s own preg­nan­cy, mis­car­riage and abortion.”

The right to abor­tion would extend up until via­bil­i­ty, usu­al­ly twen­ty-two to twen­ty-four weeks, while a preg­nan­cy could be ter­mi­nat­ed at a lat­er stage if a treat­ing physi­cian deter­mines that the abor­tion is nec­es­sary to pro­tect a preg­nant woman’s life or health.

A USA Today/Suffolk Uni­ver­si­ty poll in July showed 58% sup­port for the pro­posed amend­ment, which has oppo­nents reach­ing into their bag of polit­i­cal tricks.

The anti-abor­tion move­ment won a sem­i­nal vic­to­ry last year, when in Dobbs, a Samuel Ali­to-led U.S. Supreme Court major­i­ty over­turned the 1973 Roe v. Wade deci­sion, deny­ing Amer­i­can women the right to an abor­tion and throw­ing ques­tions of reg­u­la­tion and pro­hi­bi­tion back to the states.

When vot­ers have been giv­en a choice, how­ev­er, they have vot­ed for choice.  Michi­gan enshrined repro­duc­tive rights in its con­sti­tu­tion last year and vot­ers flipped leg­isla­tive con­trol to the Democrats.

In a sum­mer elec­tion, sched­uled by abor­tion oppo­nents to min­i­mize turnout, con­ser­v­a­tive Kansas vot­ed 59% against repeal­ing repro­duc­tive rights.

Ohio is the most-watched state this year.

Oppo­nents of repro­duc­tive rights have thrown a vari­ety of themes and tac­tics against the wall, hop­ing some­thing will stick. A church-state alliance has formed, with Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Mike DeWine and Cleveland’s Catholic Bish­op Edward Malesic appear­ing togeth­er to raise mon­ey for amend­ment foes.

The first block­ing move came in August.

Ohioans were asked to vote on a mea­sure which would have required a “super­ma­jor­i­ty” of six­ty per­cent to amend the Ohio Con­sti­tu­tion, as well as man­dat­ing that ini­tia­tive cam­paigns sub­mit sig­na­tures from every coun­ty in Ohio. An Illi­nois bil­lion­aire, Richard Uih­lein, poured $4 mil­lion into the super­ma­jor­i­ty cam­paign.  A “Rosary Ral­ly” was held in Cincin­nati fea­tur­ing actor Jim Caviezel and Planned Par­ent­hood staffer-turned-pro­life Abby Johnson.

Ohioans vot­ed down the scheme by a 55%-45% per­cent margin.

The mea­sure was, in Pres­i­dent Biden’s words, “a bla­tant attempt to weak­en vot­ers’ choic­es and fur­ther erode the free­dom of women to make their own health care decisions.”

Of course, the vote on Novem­ber 7th has major human con­se­quences as well as its nation­al polit­i­cal implications.

Abor­tion has been legal in Ohio up to via­bil­i­ty. The Ohio Leg­is­la­ture, Repub­li­can con­trolled and heav­i­ly ger­ry­man­dered, last year passed a six week ban, decree­ing no abor­tion care after a fetus’ heart­beat is detect­ed. Infor­mal­ly known as “the heart­beat bill,” its imple­men­ta­tion has been held up by a court challenge.

A polit­i­cal strat­e­gy, long deployed by trail­ing cam­paigns, has been: Cre­ate con­fu­sion, then con­quer. Its deploy­ment often begins with a con­fus­ing or decep­tive bal­lot title, often all that some vot­ers both­er to look at.

In Wash­ing­ton, Tim Eyman has tak­en advan­tage of lax rules for bal­lot titles, with court bat­tles fought over how his ini­tia­tives have been pre­sent­ed to voters.

The gam­bit is being applied in the Buck­eye State. The Ohio Bal­lot Board has sub­sti­tut­ed the phrase “unborn child” for “fetus”, and word­ed bal­lot lan­guage in such away to sug­gest that Issue 1 green lights late term abortions.

The bal­lot is slat­ed to say that Issue 1 would pro­hib­it the gov­ern­ment from restrict­ing abor­tion “before the unborn child is deter­mined to be viable,” but would “always allow an unborn child to be abort­ed at any stage of preg­nan­cy, regard­less of via­bil­i­ty, if, in the treat­ing physician’s deter­mi­na­tion, the abor­tion is nec­es­sary to pro­tect the preg­nant woman’s life or health.”

Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom

Ohioans for Repro­duc­tive Free­dom’s coali­tion part­ners include ACLU of Ohio, Abor­tion Fund of Ohio, New Voic­es for Repro­duc­tive Jus­tice, Ohio Wom­en’s Alliance, Planned Par­ent­hood Advo­cates of Ohio, Preterm Cleve­land Ohio, Pro-Choice Ohio, and URGE: Unite for Repro­duc­tive & Gen­der Equity.

Ohioans for Repro­duc­tive Rights argues that the bal­lot lan­guage makes an “eth­i­cal judg­ment” about “what stage of devel­op­ment a zygote, embryo or fetus becomes a child.” The pro-Issue 1 cam­paign has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to clean up the lan­guage, or order that vot­ers be giv­en a full text of the pro­posed amendment.

In appeal­ing to the court, Ohioans for Repro­duc­tive Rights argues: “The bal­lot language’s length and the con­text in which it was draft­ed con­firm that the above defects are no acci­dent but are, instead, part of a delib­er­ate attempt to mis­lead and sway votes.”

The group’s spokes­woman, Lau­ren Blau­velt, is blunt, say­ing: “The bal­lot lan­guage aims to per­suade against the amendment.”

The Catholic Church has invest­ed heav­i­ly in state abor­tion bat­tles, dat­ing all the way back to the 1970 abor­tion bat­tle in Wash­ing­ton, when bill­boards showed a fetus with the slo­gan: “Kill Ref­er­en­dum 20, not me.”

Its tac­ti­cal acu­men hasn’t improved much since. The church spent $6 mil­lion in Michi­gan last year, and lost. The Arch­dio­cese of Kansas City put $2.45 into the Kansas bat­tle. Anti-abor­tion forces also lost in Kentucky.

The church has already giv­en $900,000 to Pro­tect Women Ohio, which oppos­es Issue 1. In a “let­ter to the faith­ful,” sent out last month, Cincin­nati Arch­bish­op Daniel Schnurr explained: “The church must not remain on the side­lines when con­front­ed with such a clear threat to human life and dig­ni­ty and the pri­ma­cy of the family.”

Pro­tect Women Ohio is try­ing out and refin­ing new tactics.

Notably, it is direct­ing its videos and argu­ments at women, whose votes in Michi­gan and Kansas were over­whelm­ing­ly pro-choice.

Its slo­gan: “Help Keep Ohio Safe for Women, Girls and Babies.”

The group is press­ing hot but­ton issues, argu­ing that Issue 1 is an attack on parental rights and might open the way for teens to seek gen­der surgery.

The con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment would “elim­i­nate parental noti­fi­ca­tion and con­sent laws that pro­tect minor girls and allow painful abor­tions up to birth in our state,” Pro­tect Ohio Women pro­claims on its web site.

“All of the pro­tect­ed rights are like­ly to be applied to kids, too, because the (Issue 1) lan­guage is not lim­it­ed to adults: That would make it impos­si­ble to require parental con­sent for abor­tions or trans­gen­der hor­mones and surg­eries,” Megan Wold, a for­mer deputy Solic­i­tor Gen­er­al in the Ohio Attor­ney General’s office, argues on the Pro­tect Ohio Women website.

Ohio is one of thir­ty-six states that has some form of con­sent law for under­age girls to get abor­tions. The law in Ohio was upheld by the courts when Roe v. Wade was still in effect, and abor­tion was legal.

Should Issue 1 pass, it would need to be suc­cess­ful­ly chal­lenged before the Ohio Supreme Court, which has a con­ser­v­a­tive majority.

Tra­cy Thomas, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Akron law pro­fes­sor and direc­tor of its Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Law, told The Asso­ci­at­ed Press: “It’s a straw argu­ment, a false argu­ment that they’re set­ting up. Chil­dren do have con­sti­tu­tion­al rights but we have lots of exam­ples in the law, both state and fed­er­al, where these children’s rights are lim­it­ed. Mar­riage is a good example.”

Ohio is our most con­ser­v­a­tive Rust Belt indus­tri­al state, back to days when it vot­ed for Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy. It did back Barack Oba­ma twice but gave sub­stan­tial majori­ties to Don­ald Trump in 2016 and 2020.

One Demo­c­rat able to swim against the red tide has been Sen­a­tor Sher­rod Brown, a pro-repro­duc­tive rights pop­ulist who is up for reelec­tion next year.

In August, how­ev­er, both pro­gres­sive and pro-Trump coun­ties vot­ed against the “super­ma­jor­i­ty” require­ment. The Issue 1 bat­tle will be fought over a vari­ety of polit­i­cal ecosys­tems: The state cap­i­tal of Colum­bus has been trend­ing pro­gres­sive. Indus­tri­al east­ern Ohio, such places as the Mahon­ing Val­ley, has swung to Trump. Small man­u­fac­tur­ing towns in west­ern Ohio are tra­di­tion­al­ly Protes­tant con­ser­v­a­tive and gave us one very bad and randy pres­i­dent (War­ren G. Hard­ing). Greater Cincin­nati is a tra­di­tion­al battleground.

The nation’s right-wing media has dialed up parental rights – believ­ing the issue elect­ed a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor in Vir­ginia – as well as the demo­niz­ing of gen­der surgery and trans teens par­tic­i­pat­ing in women’s spots.

Con­fu­sion faces an uphill bat­tle as anti-abor­tion forces try to win in Buck­eye State and expand gov­ern­ment pow­er over repro­duc­tive rights.

Polls show major­i­ty sup­port for repro­duc­tive rights, with Catholic vot­ers reflect­ing the nation­al mood. Next-door Michi­gan went pro-lib­er­ty in a big way last year.

So did Ken­tucky, across the Ohio River.

The Ohio vote on Issue 1 in Novem­ber will be an ear­ly bell­wether on the force of repro­duc­tive rights in a sem­i­nal elec­tion next year.

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