Activists submit proposal to have abortion protections placed on November ballot

Activists submit proposal to have abortion protections placed on November ballot
Posted at 6:34 PM, Feb 21, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Less than 48 hours after starting to collect signatures, Ohio activist groups submitted their proposal for a constitutional amendment that would give everyone in the state the legal right to have an abortion.

On Tuesday, Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights finished the first step in getting abortion on the ballot.

"We gathered over 7,000 signatures in less than 48 hours," Dr. Marcela Azevedo said. "It just really shows that Ohioans are thirsty for this — they want their rights back."

The groups only needed to submit 1,000 valid signatures to the attorney general for review.

"The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety" would allow every person to have the legal choice on abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care and continuing a pregnancy. It would also prohibit the state from interfering or penalizing an individual's voluntary exercise of this right or anyone or entity that helps in utilizing this right.

"[It] guarantees Ohioans the freedom to make their own reproductive health care decisions," Jessie Hill, a law professor who has worked closely with Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, said. "This amendment will finally stop the extremist politicians who have passed harmful laws time and again and who continually seek to insert themselves in the private decisions of patients and doctors."

Ohio Right to Life’s Mike Gonidakis warned about the amendment, saying it is vague and lacks guidelines on fetal viability, which is when a fetus is likely able to survive outside the uterus.

"This dangerously written amendment would just wipe out everything and we wouldn't even know what the standard would be," Gonidakis said.

RELATED: Abortion rights groups collecting signatures for November ballot initiative

The amendment states abortion can be prohibited after fetal viability, as long as it doesn’t infringe on health, but Gonidakis said viability is different depending on who someone talks to.

"No one's going to know whether they're running afoul of the law or it's legal," he added. "And I think they did that on purpose in order to have abortion on demand up to or through the nine months."

No one is proposing abortions at nine months, considering those don't even exist, Hill responded. The amendment lays out a standard for deciding whether or not laws are permissible, she said.

"It is fine for the Legislature to impose regulations that can be backed up as being health and safety regulations, but not regulations that are driven by politics, by ideology, by individual legislators' own beliefs about what decisions people should be making about their health care," she added.

Abortion should be on a case-by-case basis, not a one size fits all proposal, Azevedo said.

"When it comes to viability, that medically — this is not a black and white number," the doctor said. "It's not a certain day where anything changes medically."

Current abortion laws and what would change

Right now, Ohio's six-week abortion ban is unenforceable due to a Hamilton County judge blocking it indefinitely as the lawsuit against it continues. The bill does not have an exception for rape or incest.

However, once it gets out of court, it will likely head to the Ohio Supreme Court. A News 5 investigation revealed how those justices already told Right to Life groups that abortion isn't a Constitutional right.

RELATED: 3 Ohio judicial candidates accused of breaking ethics code, told PAC abortion isn't Constitutional right

If passed, this amendment wouldn't change existing laws automatically, but it would be the law that applies in all of the pending litigation.

"It would mean that laws that conflict with it cannot be enforced, should not be enforced," Hill said.

News 5 asked what if the amendment passes and it gets ignored, similar to how some would say the redistricting and anti-gerrymandering amendment was dealt with in the Legislature.

"We think it will be very difficult for courts, for politicians, for others to ignore or... sort of twist its meaning," Hill said.

Next steps

If Attorney General Dave Yost finds that the petition is fair and truthful, he will send it to the Ohio Ballot Board to confirm that the petition proposes just one constitutional amendment. After that approval, it goes back to Yost for his office to turn it over to Sec. of State Frank LaRose's office. Once that’s complete, full signature gathering can begin.

Advocates must collect signatures from 44 out of 88 counties equal to at least 5% of the total vote cast for the office of governor in that county at the last gubernatorial election. Overall, the petition must gather at least 10% of the total vote cast statewide for the office of governor at the last gubernatorial election. This math means that the group needs at least 442,958 valid signatures.

Michigan and other states

This ballot amendment would be similar to an issue Michigan voters decided on back in November.

"The Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative" provided a state constitutional right to reproductive freedom, which the measure defined as "the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy."

"The Michigan campaign, which has the most similar process to the Ohio process, moreover, the most similar voter population as Ohio, certainly was helpful and provide a significant insight," Azevedo said.

Michigan's amendment passed with 56.6% of the vote.

Percentage abortion was protected in other states:

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

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.