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Ohio abortion rights groups submit signatures for ballot measure

State officials must still review the signatures, but the measure to enshrine abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution appears headed for the November ballot.
Abortion rights demonstrators protest an anti-abortion rally in Toledo, Ohio
Abortion rights demonstrators protest at an anti-abortion rally in Toledo, Ohio, in June 2022.Stephen Zenner / OPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images file

A proposed amendment to enshrine access to abortion in Ohio's Constitution is all but certain to appear on the November ballot, after a coalition of reproductive rights advocates submitted the required number of signatures on Wednesday.

The groups — Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Protect Choice Ohio — had until Wednesday to collect about 413,000 valid signatures (10% of the total votes cast in the latest governor’s race, under Ohio law) across at least 44 of the state’s 88 counties to have the amendment placed on the ballot.

State officials must now review the signatures for duplicates and other potential errors. (Signatures can be thrown out, for example, if the person wasn’t registered to vote at the address submitted or if the person’s handwriting was unreadable.)

The groups, however, said they’d collected nearly twice the needed number of signatures — more than 710,000 — in the event that any were deemed invalid. 

“We know that we are going to win in November. We are poised to put this — put abortion rights — in the hands of the voters, and we’re excited to announce this first victory on that,” Sri Thakkilapati, one of the founders of Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, said at a news conference Wednesday morning in Columbus.

Reproductive rights groups delivered 42 boxes of signatures to the state Capitol in Columbus and the office of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who will rule on the submission.

“Those 42 boxes are filled with hope and dreams of bodily autonomy,” said Kellie Copeland, the executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio, which worked with the groups to advance the measure.

LaRose has until July 25 to formally sign off on whether the measure makes the ballot.

If approved, the proposed measure would insert language in the state Constitution that enshrines the right of every individual “to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including regarding contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care and abortion. It also specifies that the state shall not “burden, penalize, prohibit, interfere with, or discriminate against” those rights.

The proposed amendment specifies that abortion may be prohibited after fetal viability, but it includes exceptions to protect the mother’s life or health.

The language used in the amendment has already been approved by the state attorney general and the state Ballot Board.

The measure is designed to counteract Ohio’s “heartbeat bill,” which snapped back into place immediately after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. That law, which effectively bans most abortions — but includes exceptions for the health of the pregnant woman and in cases of ectopic pregnancies — remains temporarily blocked by a state judge. 

The proposed amendment might need more than a simple majority of voters to approve it in November, however.

That's because voters will decide a separate ballot measure in an Aug. 8 special election that would raise the approval threshold to 60%, making it more difficult for abortion rights to be enshrined in the state.

In May, Ohio’s GOP-controlled Legislature scheduled the August election, which will also let voters decide whether groups trying to place ballot measures must obtain signatures from voters in all of Ohio’s 88 counties, instead of the 44 now required.

Reproductive rights groups contend the ballot measures were explicitly designed to make it more difficult for voters to pass their proposed amendment: The Republican-led moves came just weeks after the groups had cleared several key hurdles to getting the amendment on the ballot.

Public polling has shown that about 59% of Ohio voters support enshrining abortion rights in the state Constitution — just shy of the newly proposed higher threshold.

The placement of the measure is likely to bring about a contentious and expensive battle.

Officials with the reproductive rights coalition said Wednesday that they plan to spend at least $35 million through November.

Meanwhile, Protect Women Ohio, a group opposing the November measure, said it had committed to spend another $20 million to combat the November measure. That's on top of the $5 million the group has already spent since it launched its campaign in March.

The group on Wednesday called the measure "an extreme anti-parent amendment” that was “so unpopular” that groups supporting it “couldn’t even rely on grassroots support to collect signatures.”

Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights and Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights relied on both volunteer and paid workers to collect the signatures — a common practice for ballot measures on both sides of the aisle.

Protect Women Ohio has argued that the amendment would also expand transgender rights by allowing “minors to undergo sex change operations without their parents’ knowledge or consent" and released ads making that case. There is no mention of transgender rights in the amendment, and constitutional law experts have said the claim is inaccurate.

CORRECTION (July 5, 1:33 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the two groups leading the effort to collect signatures. They are Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Protect Choice Ohio, not Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights and Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights.