Victory for reproductive justice in Ohio ballot battle

Dirty tricks and misinformation didn’t stop Ohio voters from showing up to enshrine reproductive self-determination in the state constitution. People seeking abortions in neighboring states will also benefit.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, sparking demonstrations across the country. Above, a student-led rally in central Ohio two days after the decision. PHOTO: Paul Becker
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On election day, November 7, Ohio won the country’s most pivotal fight for abortion as 57% of voters approved Ballot Issue 1. This citizen-sponsored measure will codify self-determined reproductive care in the state constitution. The amended constitution states:

“Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on: 1. contraception; 2. fertility treatment; 3. continuing one’s own pregnancy; 4. miscarriage care; and 5. abortion.”

Although the measure prohibits termination after a fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb, it does not set an arbitrary time frame. It allows late-term procedures on a case-by-case basis if “necessary to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health.” People who provide or assist another in gaining reproductive care are also protected.

Access to abortion safeguards women’s health. States with restrictions have higher maternal mortality rates, with Black women especially impacted. In 2019 in Ohio, Black women’s deaths in childbirth were five times the national rate.

Ohio is now the seventh state with a constitutional guarantee for abortion rights — a crucial need since the U.S. Supreme Court overthrew Roe v. Wade. Residents of neighboring states with extreme anti-abortion measures — West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana — will also benefit by access to reproductive care in Ohio.

The victory will inspire residents of other states to push their own ballot initiatives. In the coming year, pro-choice measures will come before voters in Arizona, Florida, Missouri, and South Dakota.

Right-wing maneuvers

The victory in Ohio did not come easy.

A six-week abortion limit made national headlines in 2022 when a 10-year-old rape victim was forced to travel out of state for a procedure. The ban was then put on hold awaiting a ruling by the state’s supreme court. It was feared the ban would be reinstated at any time.

Starting in spring 2023, volunteers gathered more than 700,000 signatures to put Issue 1 on the ballot.

In August, Ohio voters rejected a manipulative initiative that would have raised the approval threshold for constitutional amendments to 60%.

With the governor and secretary of state among Issue 1’s opponents, the Ohio Ballot Board approved loaded language that changed all ballot references from “fetus” to “unborn child.” The wording was also modified to dishonestly state that the law would “allow an unborn child to be aborted at any stage of pregnancy.” An ad aired during a major football game featured Donald Trump warning, “In the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother.” Other inflammatory messaging suggested that Issue 1 would inspire teenagers to get abortions and gender transition surgeries without parental consent. Finally, just a week before the last day of voting, the secretary of state purged nearly 27,000 voters from the rolls.

Despite the obstacles, Ohioans mobilized in force for Issue 1. They canvassed door to door and did phone banking. On October 8, rallies were held in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, and Akron. In Milford, a restaurant was forced to close when workers quit over the owner’s aggressive anti-choice stance. Jessika Lambert, the restaurant’s former general manager, asserted: “Women deserve rights, that’s the simple answer.”

The struggle continues

Election outcomes nationally showed that voters overwhelmingly support reproductive rights. Politicians and judges who support abortion were elected in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky.

To make sure these mandates are fulfilled, there needs to be an independent grassroots movement to push for reproductive justice without compromise. Activists in several states have rightfully voiced concerns over watered-down ballot measures that include time limits and parental consent clauses. Organizers need to be willing to educate the public about how such limitations hurt access for the most vulnerable — those in poverty, youth, and people of color.

Radical Women believes that gaining reproductive justice needs a militant, multi-racial independent movement on both state and national levels that includes working-class feminists of all genders. That’s the goal of the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice. Learn more and get involved: info@reprojusticenow.org or ReproJusticeNow.org.

Also see US Abortion Policies and Access After Roe, an interactive map maintained by the Guttmacher Institute.

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