Ohio voters resoundingly voted to add abortion rights to their state constitution, a major victory for abortion rights supporters in the only state where abortion is on the ballot this November.
Issue 1 passed with more than 57% of the vote, according to results shortly after the referendum was declared.
Abortion access has been embattled in Ohio since the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade last year, sending the issue of abortion back to the states and leading 16 states to ban nearly all abortions. Ohio has a six-week abortion ban on the books, which briefly took effect until a court paused it. Tuesday’s results should prevent it from being reinstated.
After polls closed on Tuesday, abortion rights supporters gathered at a downtown Columbus watch party hosted by Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, the coalition backing Issue 1. Each time an agency or news organization declared that Issue 1 had passed, cheers erupted across the party – culminating in an ear-splitting roar when CNN, which was playing on a widescreen TV, aired footage of the watch party itself.
“Ohio spoke tonight,” one attendee told another. “We did it!” another yelled.
Lauren Blauvelt, co-chair of Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, was the first to give a speech after the results were announced. “Abortion is healthcare,” she told the watch party, to enormous applause.
Several speakers followed Blauvelt. Dr Marcela Azevedo, co-founder of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, spoke of sitting across a woman who wasn’t able to get care for her cancer because of the abortion ban. “We’re going to bed knowing that we own our own bodies,” she told the party.
Americans have expressed outrage and disagreement over Roe’s overturning in numerous polls, and abortion rights advocates have so far won every abortion-related ballot referendum since Roe’s downfall, including in reliably red states like Kansas and Kentucky. However, as the only state with an abortion-related referendum in 2023, Ohio was a test of those activists’ ability to sustain that outrage and leverage it to fuel legal change.
Outside money poured into the race. In the last few months alone, the effort to champion Issue 1 and abortion rights raised nearly $30m, out-raising anti-abortion forces by roughly $20m.
Abortion opponents blasted Ohioans with advertising that claimed Issue 1, which protects a host of reproduction-related rights, would lead minors to be able to get abortions and even gender-affirming care without their parents’ knowledge. Legal experts told the Guardian that these claims were overblown.
Because enshrining abortion rights in state constitutions is now the best way to protect the right to the procedure, abortion-related ballot referendums are currently in the works across the country, including in purple states like Arizona and Florida. More than a dozen states could ultimately vote on abortion in 2024.
Some speakers at the Tuesday night watch party brought up the 2024 elections, both in terms of what they could mean for abortion rights and what Tuesday’s vote signaled about Ohio’s place in the race for the White House.
“Ohio is not a red state,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio. “We’re purple as hell, baby.”
President Joe Biden saluted the passage of Issue 1 in a statement. He also called on Congress to pass legislation to protect abortion rights across the US.
“Ohioans and voters across the country rejected attempts by Maga Republican elected officials to impose extreme abortion bans that put the health and lives of women in jeopardy, force women to travel hundreds of miles for care, and threaten to criminalize doctors and nurses for providing the healthcare that their patients need and that they are trained to provide,” he said. “This extreme and dangerous agenda is out-of-step with the vast majority of Americans.”