Shortly after Issue 1 passed with almost 57% of the vote in the November general election, Republican legislators were already pledging to fight against the initiative’s success, even claiming voters were misled into voting for the amendment. State Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, went so far as to cry “foreign interference” in an election where her own Butler County approved of the measure.
“There’s a certain part of the legislature that is extremists that has their own beliefs and agenda,” said Dr. Marcela Azevedo, president of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, a leader in the movement to pass Issue 1. “It’s not based on what their voters believe and want.”
Already this month, state Sen. Sandra O’Brien introduced legislation to provide tax credits for those that donate to “pregnancy resource centers,” with specific eligibility requirements that the centers not promote or contract with entities regarding abortion services.
Gross asked the Legislative Service Commission to look into the creation of a bill that would move enforcement of the constitutional amendment away from the judicial branch, and exclusively into the legislative branch.
House Speaker Jason Stephens has said the bill won’t get off the ground, and Senate President Matt Huffman has backed off of earlier statements that measures to repeal or replace the amendment would come swiftly and frequently, but has also floated the idea of other legislation related to abortion regulation, including a ban at 15-weeks, something federal conservatives have also brought up.
“It’s a great opportunity for the leadership in that caucus to prove that they can be the adults in the room,” said Gabriel Mann, communications director for Pro-Choice Ohio and Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights. “We’ll see if that happens.”
But even as abortion rights advocates watch the machinations of the legislature, they fail to believe the reasoning behind the moves, partly because some of the power of the abortion rights movement came from legislator’s efforts to regulate it in the first place.
Then, when the August special election came forward with the ultimate (but defeated) goal to prevent a vote on the abortion amendment by raising the needed voter approval from 50%+1 to 60%, Mann said advocates considered it a negative, but also an opportunity.
“It was a horrible misuse of power, we objected to both the existence of the special election and the topic, but once they put it forward it was just an opportunity for voter education,” Mann told the Capital Journal.
The abortion rights movement “would have had a harder time getting people’s attention had it not been for that flawed special election,” according to Mann.
Neither Mann nor Azevedo are surprised to see the pushback from pro-life legislators who staunchly opposed Issue 1, and Lauren Blauvelt, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, isn’t surprised to see outrage from those who supported the amendment.
“What I hear from our supporters is determination, they will not allow this to happen,” Blauvelt said.
Clinics throughout the state are planning to continue providing care as they await the effective date of Issue 1 next month, and keep up the work even as likely legal battles start up to resolve lawsuits related to the six-week abortion ban instituted by the General Assembly in 2019, then paused indefinitely by a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge after the fall of Roe v. Wade.
The Ohio Supreme Court has given parties in an appeal related to that case 21 days to file arguments with the court “that address the effect on this cause, if any, of the passage of Issue 1,” according to a ruling released Nov. 16.
That appeal was from the State of Ohio, who asked the high court to allow the six-week ban to remain in place while the Hamilton County court ruled on the lawsuit to stop the ban all together. The state supreme court heard oral arguments on the case before the Nov. 7 passage of Issue 1.
Advocates are trusting the justice system to stand on the side of voters and use the constitutional amendment as the standard by which to rule on abortion regulations.
“I do know that we have a strong court, and strong legal advice, and strong advocates and a strong Ohio base that believes in this right,” Azevedo said.
With Ohio receiving national attention for the abortion rights vote, continuing a trend of conservative states whose voters approved reproductive health measures, the continued discussion around the issue only galvanizes those who support the rights more.
“(Legislators are) not going to sneak this through, they would be the subject of a massive national spotlight on a horrible abuse of state power,” Mann said. “If they want to continue talking about this, it’s going to give us even more opportunity to rally our supporters against it.”
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