COLUMBUS, Ohio — JULY 05: Field staffer directors for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, Dakota DesRochers (left) and Keith Siddall wait to unload the second truck with the remainder of 402 boxes of petitions with over 700,000 signatures being delivered to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, July 5, 2023, at the loading dock of the Office of the Ohio Secretary of State, downtown Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)
Two trucks loaded with more than 400 boxes rolled into the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office Wednesday. In those boxes were 710,000 signatures abortions rights advocates say prove they have the support they need to bring a ballot measure asking voters to put abortion care in the Ohio Constitution.
“Those (402) boxes are filled with hope, and love, and freedom of bodily autonomy … of being able to say ‘we decide what happens to us,'” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio.
In the last 12 weeks, advocates from groups including Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights have gone to farmer’s markets, held drive-through signing events, and reached across the state to collect the nearly 414,000 signatures required of them to place a measure on an Ohio voting ballot. Signature-gatherers collect far more than that minimum in an attempt to make sure enough signatures are correct and valid to meet the threshold.
Bill Wood was one of many collecting signatures, and he said he was overwhelmed by the support he saw the past three months.
“What amazed me is that even late in this process, there were people who were coming up to us and saying, ‘I have been looking forward to signing this, thank you for being here,'” Wood said. “The number of thank-you’s and compliments and wonderful support that we got from people at every stage was amazing.”
As part of the Westerville Progressive Alliance, he said he has participated in many signature drives and campaigns over the years.
“I will tell you when we brought this to our people, we have never seen an outpouring of interest and commitment like we’ve seen this year,” Wood said.
He said the Westerville group alone collected 9,000 signatures.
The measure would allow abortion in the state via an amendment to the Ohio Constitution, that states “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care and abortion.”
“Ultimately, this is about giving my patients, our patients, our friends, our families, their power back,” said Dr. Marcela Azevedo, co-founder of OPRR.
If approved, the amendment would bar the state from doing anything to “directly or indirectly burden, penalize, prohibit, interfere with, or discriminate against either an individual’s voluntary exercise of this right or a person or entity that assists an individual exercising this right, unless the state demonstrates that it is using the least restrictive means to advance the individual’s health in accordance with widely accepted and evidence-based standards of care,” according to the ballot language certified by the Ohio Ballot Board.
Abortion can, however, be prohibited “after fetal viability,” defined in the proposed amendment as “the point in pregnancy when, in the professional judgment of the pregnant patient’s treating physician, the fetus has a significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus with reasonable measures.”
Pro-abortion rights groups say signatures were collected in every Ohio county, something that may come in handy with another constitutional amendment, Issue 1, on the ballot in August that would require 60% of Ohio voters to approve of a measure, and require signatures to come from all 88 counties, rather than just the 44 of 88 required in current law.
Now, the Secretary of State’s Office will have until July 25 to verify the signatures and determine whether the measure has enough valid Ohio voter support to move forward.
If the number falls short of the required amount, advocates have 10 days to file a supplementary petition with more signatures, which must be from registered Ohio voters who didn’t sign the previous petition.
The groups working to get the measure on the ballot estimate the campaign to do it may cost approximately $35 million.
A spokesperson for Secretary of State Frank LaRose did not respond to requests for comment.
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