Ohio is the lone state deciding an abortion rights question, providing hints for 2024 races

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio becomes the latest flashpoint on Tuesday in the nation’s ongoing battle over abortion access since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a constitutional right to the procedure last year.

Voters will decide whether to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing an individual right to abortion and other forms of reproductive healthcare.

Ohio is the only state to consider a statewide abortion-rights question this year, fueling tens of millions of dollars in campaign spending, boisterous rallies for and against the amendment, and months of advertising and social media messaging, some of it misleading.

With a single spotlight on abortion rights this year, advocates on both sides of the issue are watching the outcome for signs of voter sentiment heading into 2024, when abortion-rights supporters are planning to put measures on the ballot in several other states, including Arizona, Missouri and Florida. Early voter turnout has also been robust.

Public polling shows about two-thirds of Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the earliest stages of pregnancy, a sentiment that has been underscored in half a dozen states since the Supreme Court’s decision reversing Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

In both Democratic and deeply Republican states — California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont — voters have either affirmed abortion access or turned back attempts to undermine the right.

Voter approval of the constitutional amendment in Ohio, known as Issue 1, would undo a 2019 state law passed by Republicans that bans most abortions at around six weeks into pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape and incest. That law, currently on hold because of court challenges, is one of roughly two dozen restrictions on abortion the Ohio Legislature has passed in recent years.

Issue 1 specifically declares an individual’s right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including birth control, fertility treatments, miscarriage and abortion.

It still allows the state to regulate the procedure after fetal viability, as long as exceptions are provided for cases in which a doctor determines the “life or health” of the woman is at risk. Viability is defined as the point when the fetus has “a significant likelihood of survival” outside the womb with reasonable interventions.

Anti-abortion groups have argued the amendment’s wording is overly broad, advancing a host of untested legal theories about its impacts. They’ve tested a variety of messages to try to defeat the amendment as they seek to reverse their losses in statewide votes, including characterizing it as “anti-parent” and warning that it would allow minors to seek abortions or gender-transition surgeries without parents’ consent.

It’s unclear how the Republican-dominated Legislature will respond if voters pass the amendment. Republican state Senate President Matt Huffman has suggested that lawmakers could come back with another proposed amendment next year that would undo Issue 1, although they would have only a six-week window after Election Day to get it on the 2024 primary ballot.

The voting follows an August special election called by the Republican-controlled Legislature that was aimed at making future constitutional changes harder to pass by increasing the threshold from a simple majority vote to 60%. That proposal was aimed in part at undermining the abortion-rights measure being decided now.

Voters overwhelmingly defeated that special election question, setting the stage for the high-stakes fall abortion campaign.

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