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Ohio pro-life ad campaign could impact future of abortion law

A pro-life billboard is seen in Cleveland June 24, 2021. An Ohio measure that would codify abortion access in the state's constitution has qualified for the November 2023 ballot, but its fate may be determined by the outcome of a special election Aug. 8 on raising the threshold for amending the state's constitution. (OSV News photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

(OSV News) — A pro-life group has launched a multimillion dollar ad buy in the final days before an Aug. 8 Ohio special election that could significantly impact an abortion ballot initiative in the state in November.

At the polls, Ohio voters will consider a measure — known as Issue 1 — that would raise the threshold for amending the state’s constitution from 50% plus one to 60%. If that measure passes, it will likely have a significant impact on a November ballot measure supported by the Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights and Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom that would in effect enshrine access to abortion in the state’s constitution. That measure will be considered Nov. 7.

The November measure would legalize abortion up to the point of viability unless a physician decided an abortion was necessary for the sake of the mother’s life or health. Although Ohio lawmakers enacted a six-week abortion ban, that measure is tied up in state court, meaning abortions remain legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

In a $5.5 million ad buy, Protect Women Ohio supports Issue 1, saying it would protect Ohio’s constitution and parental rights. The organization’s 30-second television ads feature a Cincinnati doctor and mom, Dr. Vivina Napier, and a Columbus mother, April Hunter, arguing in favor of raising the threshold for amendments.

“The secret is out: Ohio has some of the weakest requirements in the country for passing constitutional amendments and greedy, out-of-state special interest groups with deep pockets know it,” Molly Smith, a Protect Women Ohio board member, said in a statement. “That makes Ohio a prime target for radical special interest groups, like the ACLU, to parachute into the state and strip parents of their rights. Enough is enough. It’s time to pass Issue 1 and put long overdue, common-sense protections in place.”

Supporters argue raising that threshold would bring Ohio’s constitution more in line with the U.S. Constitution, which requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress or two-thirds of states in convention, to propose an amendment. The amendment must then be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures to take effect.

But opponents of changing the Ohio amendment process argue the measure would disenfranchise majorities of voters on key issues, not only the upcoming ballot initiative on abortion, and would mark a significant break with longstanding precedent for amending the state constitution. Opponents also argue supporters tailored Issue 1 so that the abortion ballot measure would fail in November. Opponents of the measure also said it would benefit out-of-state interest groups. The Vote No in August campaign states on its website that “it’s a special election for special interests.”

“Out-of-state special interests lobbied to create this August 8th special election, just so they can permanently rig Ohio’s constitution in their favor, ending majority rule as we know it,” the website states. “It would destroy the sacred principle of ‘one person one vote’ by allowing a small group of voters to make decisions for everyone else.”

In the November 2022 elections following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned prior precedent finding abortion access a constitutional right, voters in states across the U.S. either rejected ballot measures meant to restrict abortion, or voted to codify measures protecting the procedure.

The Catholic Conference of Ohio states on its website the Ohio bishops do not have a position on Issue 1 as it “does not have moral content” but encouraged Catholics to register and vote in the special election, citing the U.S. bishops’ teaching in “Faithful Citizenship” that “responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.”

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on Twitter @kgscanlon.

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