Abortion Ballot Fight Ramps Up After Ohio Initiative Defeated

  • Abortion rights backers avoid a fall campaign obstacle
  • Money from outside the state fueled advertisements

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Ohio abortion rights backers have a clearer path to victory in November now that voters refused to make it harder to amend the state constitution.

Those pushing for a reproductive rights amendment will only need to convince a simple majority of the electorate rather than the 60% sought by the Republican-led legislature and Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

About 57% voted against the proposal (Issue 1) to raise the threshold for future constitutional amendments after some ad campaigns emphasized the potential impact on the abortion question to come in the fall election. The initiative was closely watched as the latest evidence of the extent to which abortion is an issue that animates voters and gets them to the polls.

Activists on both sides said the result of Tuesday’s election would energize the abortion-issue campaign.

“Our pro-life, pro-parent coalition is more motivated than ever,” the group Protect Women Ohio said in a statement. “Ohio will never cancel parents’ rights or allow for painful late-term abortion up until birth.”

Source: AdImpact
Image from an ad aired in Ohio by the group One Person One Vote

Turnout was unusually high, with more than 3 million votes, including more than 690,000 votes cast early or by mail, exceeding the total number of ballots cast in an August election a year ago.

“Access to abortion and having reproductive freedoms made at an individual level and not through government dictates really motivates people,” said Collin Marozzi, deputy policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Pivot to November

Before the votes were counted, CNN released national polling in which 64% of US adults surveyed said they disagreed with the US Supreme Court decision that said there’s no constitutional right to abortion, a conclusion reinforced by election results last year in Republican-heavy Kansas.

In Ohio, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll conducted from July 9 to July 12 found that 58% of surveyed registered voters in the Buckeye State said they support the November abortion amendment proposal, while 32% oppose it.

Backers of the effort to create a constitutional right to reproductive decision-making will try to build on that sentiment—and resume their fundraising—to drive turnout in November.

“We’re obviously full steam ahead,” said Marozzi.

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Ohio Democrats said they put 2,300 volunteers in the field and made more than 1 million phone calls to help defeat the ballot issue. In the Cleveland area, the North Shore AFL-CIO said its members sent 55,000 hand-written postcards to union households and “we look forward to carrying this momentum into November and beyond.”

Elizabeth Walters, the state party chair, also worked in a jab at LaRose, Ohio’s top election official, who put a lot of his political capital behind the measure as he simultaneously seeks the GOP’s US Senate nomination. She said he’d “made himself the face of this effort and now is officially Ohio’s biggest loser”—fighting words that LaRose has time to parry as he prepares for a March primary.

LaRose issued a statement attributing the outcome to being “dramatically outspent by dark money billionaires from California to New York.”

“I’m just getting started in the fight to protect Ohio’s values,” he said.

Uihlein Funding

The anti-Issue 1 group One Person One Vote raised $14.8 million for its advocacy campaign, with almost all the contributions coming from outside Ohio. On the losing side, the group Protect Our Constitution was backed by $4 million from Illinois billionaire and prolific Republican donor Richard Uihlein, and Protect Women Ohio reported that it received more than $6.1 million from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.

The abortion-rights forces also will need to reboot their fundraising efforts.

Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, the main group behind the November amendment proposal, reported July 31 that it had about $1 million on hand, after taking in $8.5 million and spending most of it on signature gathering to place the measure on the ballot.

Ohio’s abortion statute is in flux because a judge blocked a law effectively banning the termination of pregnancies after six weeks gestation. The Ohio Supreme Court is reviewing the case.

Interviewed on CNN Tuesday night, Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said “this was just step one in the process and we’ll be ready to go come November.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Heisig in Ohio at eheisig@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Stephanie Gleason at sgleason@bloombergindustry.com

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