On Nov. 7, 2023, Ohioans voted to pass the Issue 1 ballot, enshrining the right to abortion in the Ohio Constitution. The vote came after many months of lingering uncertainty regarding state abortion laws in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s controversial Dobbs v. Jackson decision in June 2022. Overturning Roe v. Wade set a new precedent that caused many red states to implement immediate abortion bans and left other states struggling to decide on new laws. Pro-choice supporters have been relentlessly fighting for legal abortion access for women, notably by appealing directly to state electorates. Most recently, they are celebrating the passage of the Issue 1 Ohio constitutional amendment: “Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative.”
The new amendment guarantees widespread access to abortion, which may come as a surprise given Ohio’s history of restrictive abortion laws. In 2019, Ohio implemented a strict ‘six-week ban’ that prohibits abortion once embryonic cardiac cell activity is detected (usually six weeks after conception), with no exceptions for rape or incest. Although this ban was quickly blocked because of its unconstitutionality according to Roe v. Wade, it was swiftly reinstated after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision. The six-week ban faced abundant backlash and legal issues, yet its passage and quick reinstatement suggested that Ohioans’ maintained a restrictive outlook towards abortion.
The Issue 1 amendment’s success offers a different narrative about Ohioans’ opinions on abortion access. The newly passed amendment protects “an individual right to one’s own reproductive medical treatment, including but not limited to abortion” and protects “any person or entity that assists a person with receiving reproductive medical treatment, including but not limited to abortion.” Abortion access is limited only once the child is considered viable and the mother has no foreseen health risks, both determined by the physician. The amendment’s scope extends to better access to contraception, miscarriage care, and fertility treatment as well. The extensive rights guaranteed by Issue 1 starkly contrast the restrictive abortion laws in place before.
The Issue 1 vote was not only polarizing for voters but also confusing. In August 2023, Ohio voted on a different ballot under the same name, Issue 1. This vote, however, regarded increasing the threshold required to pass the Issue 1 amendment that would be voted on in November. The August ballot was brought up in hopes of hindering the Issue 1 abortion amendment from passing in November. Supporting the August Issue 1 ballot aligned with opposing the November Issue 1 amendment, an incongruity that understandably confused voters.
Many are convinced that this uncertainty was not just an unfortunate mistake but rather a sneaky political tactic. Pro-choice groups blamed Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose for purposely misleading voters in hopes of gaining accidental votes that support his pro-life agenda. A spokesperson for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, Gabriel Mann, said “It’s 100% a tactic. It’s called Issue 1 because it was determined to be so by Frank LaRose, who actively campaigned against the issue in the August special election…It’s not a coincidence.”
Although LaRose admitted that the August Issue 1 ballot was intended to hinder the new amendment from passing, there is reasonable doubt that the same-name debacle was not, in fact, a mischievous political tactic. Both sides of the debate were affected, as “abortion-rights groups that spent all that time educating voters to say “no” to Issue 1 will now have to make sure their voters pick “yes” on Issue 1 in November. Anti-abortion groups will have the same challenge in reverse.” Although the confusion may have drawn voters away from either side, pro-choice groups prevailed on both Issue 1 ballots, the majority saying no to increasing the threshold and yes to passing the amendment.
Despite many obstacles, Ohioans ultimately showed 56.6% majority support for passing the abortion access amendment. Ohio followed in the footsteps of states such as California, Michigan, and Vermont, which all passed abortion access amendments in 2022. Kansas, Kentucky, and Wisconsin have also demonstrated pro-choice leanings and may vote on amendments for their state constitutions in 2024. Consistent wins for expanded abortion rights represents America’s potentially growing pro-choice tendencies.
Marina Varriano is from Westchester, NY, studying Public Policy and Music