Abortion-rights organizers in Ohio are making the final push to put a state constitutional amendment before voters in November to grant and protect abortion access in the state.
To put their citizen-initiated amendment up for a vote, petitioners need to gather 413,487 voter signatures — 10% of the vote from last year’s gubernatorial election — from half or more of all 88 counties in Ohio by July 5. Leaders of the Ohio Democratic Party told a local news outlet in Cleveland this week that they have already collected over 100,000 signatures as the deadline nears.
The amendment would protect abortion access up until fetal viability. Ohio has a “heartbeat” law — a ban on abortion after six weeks of gestation — but it has been blocked by a court.
Alice Hirsh, the development officer of ACLU Ohio, which is part of the coalition of abortion rights organizations called Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, said earlier this month that they were “collecting on schedule.”
“What’s on the ballot in November, is every Ohioans access to their own choices on their reproductive care. It’s about contraception access. It’s about abortion access and care, miscarriage care and the ability of a woman to decide with her doctor about what that care looks like,” said Hirsh.
Bobbie Ackerman, an organizer for Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, frequents the local farmer’s markets in Columbus to collect signatures, which reminds her of fighting for abortion rights when she was a college student at Ohio State.
“I’ve got daughters and granddaughters and I fought this fight once,” Ackerman said. “I want to make this a constitutional amendment in our Ohio constitution that women do have these reproductive choices.”
But even if petitioners succeed in putting abortion on the ballot in November, they may face another hurdle to pass the amendment in the constitution. With the approval of the state Supreme Court, Ohio’s Republican lawmakers successfully scheduled an August special election in which voters will decide whether to raise the threshold of voter support required to pass any future constitutional amendments to 60%.
Republican state Rep. Brian Stewart, who sponsored this bill, told NBC News that it would ensure that there’s “supermajority” support when changing the state’s constitution.
“If the legislature gets it wrong, we can fix it. We can fix it in a week,” said Stewart. “Once you put something in the constitution, it’s generally there to stay.”
But abortion rights activists fear the August election is a direct attempt to thwart their efforts for November.
“If this referendum that’s up on the ballot in August passes, it would almost make the ability to get the reproductive rights on the issue in November impossible,” said Raphael Davis-Williams, an organizer for Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom.
Data shows the increased threshold could be critical to passing the amendment. Fifty-nine percent of Ohioans surveyed in a Baldwin Wallace University poll last year say that they would amend Ohio’s constitution to protect abortion access — in other words, just shy of the 60% needed should the ballot measure in August pass.
“Based on the patterns we’ve seen so far, raising the threshold from 50 to 60, quite possibly, I think likely will make the difference between that amendment passing and not passing,” said Chris Devine, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Dayton.
Following the reversal of Roe v. Wade, a record number of abortion-related proposals were put on the table last year nationwide. Voters in Kansas overwhelmingly struck down an amendment that could have paved the way to blocking abortion access in their state.
Ohio’s August election — and its potential impact on the upcoming November election where abortion may be on the ballot — could be telling for future abortion-related policy pushes in state legislatures across the country.
“Ohio is, you know, the place that this battle is happening right now this year,” said Hirsh. “But this is happening all across the country. It’s going to be in so many more states next year during that election cycle.”