Ohio rejects initiative to change amendment process, easing the way for abortion referendum

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Ohio voters rejected a proposed initiative that would have made it more difficult to adopt constitutional amendments via citizen-led ballot initiatives, which will make it easier for a proposed abortion referendum to succeed in November.

With 81% of the votes tallied at 10 p.m. Tuesday, about 57% had voted no on Issue 1 while about 43% voted yes on the initiative.

A yes vote was a vote in favor of raising the threshold required for adopting a constitutional amendment through a citizen-led ballot initiative. The proposal would have required 60% of the vote for an initiative to pass. With the amendment’s defeat, a simple majority is all that is required for a ballot initiative to win.

The proposal received support from pro-life organizations, various business associations, and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. It was also supported by the Republican Party of Ohio. The opponents of the proposal included pro-abortion organizations, various unions, and the Democratic Party of Ohio.

How this could affect abortion

This referendum comes just three months before Ohioans will vote on another referendum that will decide whether to establish a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom,” which would include abortion up to the point of viability.

With the Aug. 8 initiative failing, pro-abortion advocates will only need to obtain a simple majority of the vote rather than reach the 60% threshold that would have otherwise been required if voters had approved Issue 1.

The Nov. 7 abortion referendum would amend the state’s Bill of Rights to add an entirely new section of rights: “The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety.”

If the abortion proposal passes, it would ensure that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions.” This would include, but not be limited to, abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care, and continuing one’s pregnancy.

The proposal would prohibit the government from directly or indirectly burdening, penalizing, prohibiting, interfering with, or discriminating against “an individual’s voluntary exercise of this right” or “a person or entity that assists an individual exercising this right.”

The proposed pro-abortion amendment would only allow the state to regulate abortion once the child is “viable.” This usually occurs at about 24 weeks, but the amendment language allows the treating physician, who will oftentimes be the abortionist, to determine whether the unborn child is viable on a case-by-case basis. The amendment also does not establish an age limit for this right, which some fear would strip away parental rights when a minor is seeking an abortion.

Some opponents have also expressed concern that lawyers could try to argue that gender reassignment surgery is part of one’s reproductive freedom.

Abortion is currently legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks of pregnancy. Although Gov. Mike DeWine signed a law that would prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which occurs around six weeks, the law was blocked by a judge and the issue is still being litigated.

If Ohio voters approve the amendment in November, lawmakers would be powerless in trying to restrict or limit most abortions.

Two other changes proposed

In addition to raising the threshold, the proposal would have also made two changes to the process by which citizen-led constitutional amendment ballot initiatives are put on the ballot.

First, the initiative would have required petitioners for the initiative to receive signatures from every county in the state. With the defeat of the proposal, petitioners will continue to only need to acquire signatures from half of the counties.

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Secondly, it would have eliminated the grace period that allows petitioners 10 extra days to gather signatures for the proposal if the original submission falls short of the required number of valid signatures. This grace period will remain in place.

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