Ohio Abortion Rights at Stake in Today's Crucial Vote

Today, on November 7, Ohio voters will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on a highly anticipated proposal regarding abortion.

This critical vote will serve as an early litmus test for Democrats' ability to effectively rally people around the issue in the next legislative and presidential elections.

This year, voters will only be presented with one abortion-related ballot proposal, referred to as Issue 1.

However, Ohio is one of several states where proponents of abortion rights are looking to voter-driven ballot initiatives to expand reproductive rights after tight limits were permitted to take effect following the Supreme Court's decision reversing Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

The success of pro-abortion rights groups in all six states where abortion-related ballot proposals were on the ballot last year will be extended if voters pass Issue 1 and agree to change the state constitution to codify abortion rights.

Danielle Bessett, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati, shared with Healthnews that if Issue 1 succeeds, it will mean that Ohio voters prioritized health and freedom — and more specifically, robust, evidence-driven reproductive health.

However, it will take time and resources to unravel the restrictive abortion policies that Ohio has had in place for years. OPEN, the research initiative I co-lead has documented the intensely difficult experiences abortion seekers and medical professionals have gone through as Ohio’s government has chipped away at abortion access over the past decade and longer. We hope that if the Right to Reproductive Freedom amendment goes into effect, Ohioans will have more access to [the] care they need and that medical professionals will be able to build out their care practices to serve those living in Ohio and those seeking care from surrounding states who have more limited options at home.

- Bessett

What is Issue 1?

Issue 1 is a ballot initiative that, if it passes, will add provisions for access to abortion to the Ohio Constitution.

Bessett says voting "Yes" on Issue 1 would amend Article I of the Ohio Constitution to add the following protections:

  1. Every person has a right to carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.
  2. The State of Ohio cannot burden, penalize, prohibit, interfere with, or discriminate against individuals exercising this right or a person or entity that assists an individual exercising this right
  3. Abortion may be prohibited after fetal viability unless in the professional judgment of the pregnant patient’s treating physician, it’s necessary to preserve the patient’s life or health

Notably, the ballot language distorts the meaning of the amendment. The full amendment text can be found here, and the ballot language can be found here. OPEN’s Instagram explainer of Issue 1 can be found here.

The ballot language states that the proposition would include "an individual right to one's own reproductive medical treatment" in the state constitution.

This right would include the ability to choose one's reproductive medical treatment, including abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, and post-miscarriage care.

If approved, the amendment, titled "The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety," would protect any person or entity that helps a patient receive reproductive medical treatment and prohibit Ohio from "directly or indirectly burdening, penalizing or prohibiting abortion" before viability, generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Issue 1: voting in favor

For Issue 1 to pass, a majority vote is required. The amendment will go into effect 30 days following the election if Ohio voters approve it.

Republicans in Ohio tried earlier this year to increase the bar for approving amendments to the state constitution, making the process more challenging.

Issue 1, the legislation that was presented to voters in August during a special election, stipulated that any proposed constitutional amendment needed the consent of a supermajority or at least 60% of voters.

However, with 57.1% of Ohio voters voting "no," the ballot item was decisively rejected. The results of the August 8 special election indicated that the state's 1912 simple-majority bar would stay in place.

Bessett concludes that if Issue 1 does not pass, a safe, common medical procedure will have been further stigmatized through a well-funded disinformation campaign and used as a political tool.

As researchers, we know restrictive abortion policy has ripple effects on many aspects of life, including financial, mental, and social health. Research repeatedly shows that abortion restrictions — not just bans — force people to travel out of state for care. When the 6-week ban was in effect in July and August 2022, we saw a four-fold increase in Ohioans who had to travel out of state for abortion care.

- Bessett

Abortion restrictions affect people with racial privilege, wealth privilege, and gender privilege differently. Some people will always be able to overcome barriers to care, and others will not.

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