Ohio voters decided Tuesday to put abortion rights in the Midwestern state’s constitution, one of several states where the issue resonated with voters and showed its potential to help Democrats next year. The Ohio vote was another key test of where voters stand on one of the most consequential issues heading into next year’s presidential election. The abortion debate also played into Tuesday victories for Democrats, who held their majority in the Virginia Senate and wrestled the majority from Republicans in the state’s House of Delegates. Also, Democrat Andy Beshear won another term as governor of Kentucky, where he criticized abortion restrictions passed by the legislature.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade more than a year ago, voters had defeated ballot measures that would have restricted abortion rights in other red states such as Kansas and Kentucky. The Ohio vote was the toughest referendum fight yet, however. For the first time, abortion-rights advocates were trying to pass protections in a solidly Republican-leaning state. The Associated Press called the race after the abortion-rights ballot measure took a comfortable lead during vote counting.
In a statement praising the passage of the Ohio ballot measure, President Biden said efforts by Republicans across the country to restrict abortion access were out of step with the vast majority of Americans. “Tonight, Americans once again voted to protect their fundamental freedoms—and democracy won,” he said. The measure will establish a state constitutional right to make one’s own reproductive decisions, including about abortion. It will allow the state to prohibit abortion after fetal viability, which is typically around 22 to 24 weeks, except when a woman’s life or health is at risk. Shaylynn Michael, who works in retail sales for a cellphone company in Steubenville, Ohio, said she voted in favor of the ballot measure. The 26-year-old Democrat said her son was born shortly after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“As someone who had just had a child, I couldn’t imagine if something were to be medically wrong that could endanger my life not being able to have a medical procedure to save my life,” she said. “I just don’t believe that other people should have the right to decide what someone does with their body.” Other voters in Steubenville, in a former steelmaking region in eastern Ohio close to Pennsylvania and West Virginia, said they opposed the ballot measure, known as Issue 1. Many cited their opposition to abortion on religious grounds or said they believed the issue should be handled through legislation rather than a constitutional amendment.
Married couple Greg Rayburn and Christa Rayburn, 58 and 48, respectively, said they were worried the ballot measure could lead to minors receiving abortions without parental consent. They both voted no. “I have three teenage daughters,” said Christa Rayburn, who like her husband is a Republican. “Even if they didn’t follow my wishes, it would break my heart that I couldn’t be there to support them.” In another notable contest, the AP said voters in Maine rejected a measure to create a new consumer-owned electric utility by forcing a buyout of two investor-owned companies that currently cover most of the New England state. This was the second-most-expensive ballot fight on Tuesday after the Ohio abortion vote, fueled by spending from two investor-owned utilities that fought to keep their jobs, according to Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan election site.
The Ohio and Maine contests were among more than two dozen ballot initiatives in five states on Tuesday, with other questions ranging from whether to legalize marijuana to how to spend tax money from cigarette sales. Texas has the most such measures with 14, including several that could provide billions of dollars in funding for new power plants, state parks, water infrastructure and broadband projects. Voters in Ohio also decided Tuesday to make recreational marijuana legal in the state. Marijuana had been legal in 23 states, with most of those approving its use through ballot measures.
Ohioans expressed stronger views about the abortion measure, and many were already looking ahead to next year’s presidential contest. The Rayburns, who voted against the abortion measure, said they both plan to support Donald Trump. Christa Rayburn said she believes the many legal cases against the former president are politically motivated. “If all of these things are true against Donald Trump, why didn’t they do this seven years ago?” she said. “It’s because there’s an election coming up and they really want to keep him off the ballot.”
Toni Hubbard, a 76-year-old pastor who also voted against the abortion measure, said she would support President Biden. She said she thinks attacks on his age are misplaced. Hubbard, a Democrat, said she fears a Trump victory next year. “He will tear down the country if he’s in there,” she said.
In Ohio’s high-stakes abortion fight, campaigns on both sides of the issue received more than $71 million in contributions, with supporters of abortion rights receiving $41 million, compared with roughly $30 million for opponents, according to Ballotpedia. Conservative groups centered much of their advertising campaign on the issues of parental consent and late-term abortion.
The Ohio amendment doesn’t include language that would change the state’s parental-consent law, and currently minors must get their parents’ approval for an abortion. But a legal analysis by the state’s Republican attorney general said “there is no guarantee” that the current parental-consent law would remain in effect if the amendment is passed. Opponents had used the issue to galvanize voters.
“It is the strongest messaging by far,” said Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, prior to Tuesday’s vote. “When you mess around with parents and their kids, parents unite to stop it—even pro-choice parents.” Gonidakis and others had said that the proposed amendment would open the door to people under the age of 18 obtaining abortions without their parents being notified and consenting. Legal scholars said that would only happen if the state’s existing parental-consent law is struck down in the courts.
“What the opposition is trying to do is insert other strategies like parental rights into the conversation to distract from their ultimate goal of a national ban of abortion,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, before the vote. Abortion-rights groups said that Republicans in the state used their political power to try to deceive voters about the measure in other ways, such as by changing the summary language of the amendment to “whether an unborn child is viable,” rather than a reference to fetal viability in the wording used in the draft submitted by proponents.
Tuesday’s ballot question followed one pushed by antiabortion groups in August—which Ohio voters rejected—that would have made it harder to amend the state constitution. An Ohio law banning abortion at six weeks has been held up by a court injunction and currently doctors can perform abortions in the state up until about 22 weeks of pregnancy. Some voters said they supported the abortion measure, but still believe the procedure should be performed in limited situations. In Steubenville, Maryann Bush-Jeter said she is a Christian and a nurse and decided to vote in favor of Issue 1 because she believes there are times, such as when a pregnant woman’s life is in jeopardy, when abortion is appropriate. “I don’t think it should be used as a means of birth control. No, I do not,” she said.
Ohio Voters Enshrine Abortion Access in State Constitution Ballot initiative was latest test of where voters stand on reproductive rights a year before presidential elections
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