2 abortion rights groups launch simultaneous efforts to codify abortion rights with ballot measures

Support for Abortion Rights Rally
Posted at 2:10 PM, Dec 12, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two different coalitions launched two separate initiatives to restore and ensure abortion access in Ohio through ballot initiatives to amend the state constitution.

On Monday, Ohioans for Reproduction Freedom, a coalition of abortion and reproductive rights groups, announced the formation of a ballot exploration committee that will work towards adding a measure on a future state ballot to amend the Ohio Constitution to explicitly enshrine the right to receive abortion care.

Activists worry that the newly-elected Ohio Supreme Court will take away access to abortion, so they are doing what six other states have already successfully accomplished.

"We know we can follow those other states," Jaime Miracle with Pro-Choice Ohio said. "Abortion did win on the ballot every single place it was on the ballot this fall."

RELATED: Ohioans fight resolution that makes it harder to amend Constitution

The coalition leading the effort to add ballot issue for abortion rights in the state constitution consists of ACLU of Ohio, Abortion Fund Ohio, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, Ohio Women’s Alliance, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, Preterm-Cleveland, Pro-Choice Ohio and URGE.

"Poll after poll has shown that Ohioans support abortion access," she added.

In a Baldwin Wallace University poll from October, 59.1% of Ohio voters surveyed wanted to protect abortion access — but that number wouldn’t be good enough if the GOP gets its way.

Ohio Right to Life’s Mike Gonidakis is now showing support for House Joint Resolution 6. It would require a 60% supermajority in order for constitutional amends to succeed, rather than the simple 50%+1 majority.

"Whether it's 50 or 60% threshold to get that... those [amendments] don't change once they're put in our state's constitution," he said, clarifying he meant they rarely change. "That's not the way our government should work in Ohio."

RELATED: Ohio Republicans introduce legislation to make it more difficult for citizens to amend constitution

Republican Sec. of State Frank LaRose and state Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) put forward the "Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment," which is "designed to help protect the Ohio Constitution from continued abuse by special interests and out-of-state activists."

The bill, introduced less than one month ago, has zoomed to the front of the priority line for Statehouse leaders. In previous News 5 coverage, Gary Daniels with the ACLU said that this isn’t an accident — noting it is suspiciously timed at best, but targeted at worst.

"Everyone involved in this issue knows that it is aimed squarely at abortion and gerrymandering future ballot initiatives, so that is why they are working so hard to get this passed as quickly as possible because they are afraid that Ohio citizens are going to support the ballot initiatives," Daniels said.

Watch News 5's full analysis on the resolution in the player below:

New legislation could make it more difficult for citizens to amend constitution

Raising this threshold could hurt the coalition's chance because only two of the six states passed 60% for abortion as a constitutional right:

  • Kentucky — 52.3%
  • Montana — 52.5%
  • Michigan — 56.6%
  • Kansas — 59%
  • California — 66%
  • Vermont — 76.7%

RELATED: After bipartisan backlash, Ohio GOP tweaks legislation that makes it harder to amend Constitution

Ohioans fight resolution that makes it harder to amend Constitution

When asked if he thought the resolution would make it harder for the measure to pass, Gonidakis said yes, but the level of difficulty varies on the future language of the proposal. If the advocates include that abortion at the ninth month is legal, the bill would fail "for sure."

News 5 has not heard or found any lawmaker or advocacy group that suggests abortion should be legal at nine months. When told this and asking about a 22-24 week ban, like Ohio had in place prior to the six-week abortion ban, Gonidakis said it would be harder to prevent Ohioans from voting for it. However, the 60% threshold would also help stop it from passing.

Because there is no language, Gonidakis doesn't know the likelihood of passage, but neither does anyone else.

"Anything's possible, of course," he said.

At almost the same time, #ProtectChoiceOhio launched a similar effort, pledging a citizen-driven ballot initiative for 2023 to amend the state constitution.

This coalition was launched by Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, a “patient-focused advocacy group of more than 1,400 Ohio doctors who organized spontaneously after the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade.”

Their goal is to draft an amendment that will ensure access to safe, legal, equitable and comprehensive reproductive medical care, including abortion, with the hope of placing the issue on the ballot in 2023.

"We find it quite comical that there are two abortion groups that can't even come to a consensus right now on when this should happen or what it should say," Gonidakis added. "Obviously, if they can't get their act together, it's going to fail."

Both Miracle and the Protect Choice Ohio team denied any form of miscommunication.

"We have, of course, met with the ACLU’s coalition many times because we share the common goal of ensuring abortion access in Ohio," Protect Choice Ohio spokesperson Dr. Aziza Wahby said. "While the timing is a coincidence, we hold the organization’s work in the highest regard."

So there is the advocacy coalition and the physician coalition — they are not competing, each said.

"Abortion is not a partisan issue; it is healthcare," Wahby added. "As physicians, we have a duty to provide evidence-based medical care to every patient who walks through our doors.  We, therefore, feel immense responsibility to make sure the physical and mental health of our patients is protected as soon as humanly possible.  This is a matter of urgency and we are committed to doing everything in our power to allow Ohio citizens a voice in their healthcare in November of 2023."

Either way, Ohio Right to Life is "prepared and ready to go" to fight the measure.

"We will be well-funded, well-organized — that we will defeat any radical agenda item from the abortion industry," he added.

While timelines have not been established, the organizations in the Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom coalition are prepared to launch the effort as early as November 2023, according to Miracle.

"We know we can win on the ballot in Ohio, Frank LaRose knows we can win on the ballot," Miracle said. "That is why they are trying to once again rig the system to ensure that the people currently in power stay in power and we disempower the citizens of Ohio."

GOP politicians argued that there is no connection between his legislation and the abortion and redistricting citizen initiatives that are currently in the works.

"We're not gonna be able to control conspiracy theory or folks that want to imply impure motives to everything that we do here," Rep. Stewart said.

Gonidakis hasn't been involved in H.J.R. 6, so he said he isn't sure of the motive, but this could definitely benefit his organization in this specific case.

"We know that abortion is a winning issue," Miracle said. "We are here to say that not only are we protecting abortion access in the state constitution, but our coalition firmly opposes H.J.R 6 and we'll do everything we can to stop it from passing and to stop it on the ballot next year if we have to."

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.