Voters enshrine abortion rights in the Ohio constitution

Posted on November 15, 2023

In Ohio’s November 2023 General Election, Issue 1, a citizen-led initiative for abortion rights, was approved by a margin of 57-to-43 percent. This ballot measure amends the state constitution, which was the only way to guarantee abortion access with a very conservative governor and legislature.

The constitutional amendment, titled “The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety,” establishes “an individual right to one’s own reproductive medical treatment,” including to make decisions on abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, and miscarriage care. It protects any person or entity that helps a patient receive reproductive medical treatment and prohibits Ohio from “directly or indirectly burdening, penalizing or prohibiting abortion” before viability, generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. The patient’s physician is granted the authority to determine “on a case-by-case basis,” whether the fetus is viable and abortions will be allowed at any stage of pregnancy if necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.

Earlier this year, Ohio Republicans attempted to raise the threshold for approving changes to the state constitution, which would have made the approval of Issue 1 more difficult. They called a Special Election in August to propose a constitutional amendment that would have required future constitutional amendments to win at least 60% of voters. But Ohio voters rejected that by a margin of 57-to-43 percent, not coincidentally the same as the winning margin for Issue 1 in November.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2022, there have been eight statewide referenda on abortion (including both August and November in Ohio), and abortion rights advocates have won all of them. Simultaneously, abortion rights have become an effective battle-cry for progressive candidates across the nation. Democrats probably took full control of the Virginia legislature, and increased their control of the New Jersey legislature, because of the abortion issue.

In 2024, abortion rights will be on statewide ballots in New York and Maryland, and efforts are underway in several more states, including Arizona and Florida.