Number 1: Why Ohio’s abortion ballot question confuses voters

By | November 2, 2023

Volunteers supporting a ballot initiative to establish a constitutional right to abortion stopped Alex Woodward in an Ohio market hall to ask him if they could expect his vote in November.

Ms. Woodward declared herself in favor of abortion rights and affirmed her support. But as canvassers moved into the room, she realized she didn’t really know how to mark her ballot. “I think so,” she said. “Maybe that’s a no?”

Anyone in Ohio could afford some confusion – the result of an avalanche of messages and counter-messages, misinformation and complicated language about what the amendment would do, and even an entirely separate ballot measure with the same name barely three months ago. All of this worries abortion rights supporters in an off-year election campaign that has become the most closely watched in the country.

But this measure in Ohio represents the toughest fight yet. This is the first time voters in a red state have been asked to vote “yes” to a constitutional amendment establishing the right to abortion, rather than “no” to preserve the status quo established by the courts. Ohio voters have historically tended to reject ballot amendments.

Republicans who control the levers of state power used their positions to try to influence the vote, first by calling a special election in August to try to raise the threshold for passing amendments on the ballot, and then when that failed, using language favored by anti-abortion groups to describe the amendment on the ballot and in official communications from the State.

Anti-abortion groups, who were caught off guard by the wave of voter anger that immediately followed the court’s overturning Roe, have had more time to refine their message. They have fueled fears about the loss of parental rights and the possibility of children undergoing transition surgeries, even though the proposed amendment mentions neither.

Democrats nationwide are watching to see if the outrage that brought new voters to the party Their momentum last year is enough to help them win even in red states in presidential and congressional elections in 2024. And with abortion rights groups pushing for similar measures on the ballot in red and purple states next year, anti-abortion groups hope they have found a winning strategy to stop them.

“Certainly, we know all eyes are on Ohio right now,” said Amy Natoce, a spokeswoman for Protect Women Ohio, a group founded by national anti-abortion groups including Susan B. Anthony Pro -Life America, to oppose the amendment.

With early voting underway since mid-October, the state is a frenzy of TV and social media ads, multiple rallies a day and doorknobs laden with campaign literature, with each side blaming the another for being too extreme for Ohio.

A “yes” vote on the first question, a citizen initiative pushed largely by doctors, would amend the state constitution to establish the right to “make one’s own reproductive decisions,” including abortion. .

Amendment explicitly allows state to ban abortion once viableor approximately 23 weeks, when the fetus can survive outside the uterus, unless the pregnant woman’s doctor believes the procedure “is necessary to protect the life or health of the pregnant patient.”

But this mention does not appear on the ballot paper. Instead, voters see a summary from the Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, a Republican who opposes abortion and pushed the August vote to try to thwart the abortion rights amendment. This summary reverses the viability provision, asserting that the amendment “would still allow an unborn child to abort at any stage of pregnancy, regardless of viability.”

Other Republicans helped spread misinformation about the amendment. The state attorney general, who opposes abortion, released a 13-page analysis arguing, among other things, that the amendment would invalidate the law requiring parental consent for minors seeking an abortion. (Constitutionalists declared these claims false. And the amendment would allow some restrictions on abortion.)

The ballot measure that Republicans proposed in August to try to make it harder to pass was also called Number 1. Across the state, some lawns still have signatures from abortion rights groups calling for “No to Question 1”.

Abortion rights groups reminded voters of the consequences of Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, which was in effect for 82 days last year — and could come into effect again effective any day, pending a decision by the state Supreme Court. They repeatedly mention The 10-year-old rape victim who traveled to Indiana to get an abortion after doctors in Ohio refused to provide him with one due to the ban.

In a television commercial, a couple recounts their anguish when doctors told them at 18 weeks that a much-desired pregnancy would not survive, but that they would not be able to have an abortion in Ohio, forcing them too to leave the State for treatment. : “What happened to us could happen to anyone.”

The “yes” camp also appealed to Ohioans’ innate conservatism regarding government overreach, going beyond traditional messages portraying abortion as essential to women’s rights. John Legend, singer-songwriter from Ohio whose wife, Chrissy Teigen, spoke publicly about having an abortion who saved her life, said in a video message: “Number 1 will distract politicians from their personal decisions regarding abortion.”

The “no” camp makes little mention of the six-week ban or abortion. Instead, billboards and billboards assert that a “no” vote protects parents’ rights. Protect Women Ohio has distributed messages on social media and in campaign literature arguing that because the amendment gives “individuals” rather than “adults” the right to make their own reproductive decisions, it could lead to children having gender transition surgery without parental permission – which constitutionalists have also said is wrong.

Anti-abortionists are trying to reach beyond the conservative base, and they will have to do so to win. In the July and October polls, 58 percent of Ohio residents said they would vote in favor of the amendment to guarantee the right to abortion, and that included a majority of independents.

Kristi Hamrick, vice president of media and policy for Students for Life, which opposes abortion and has “gone door-to-door” on Ohio college campuses, said anti -abortion had relied too heavily on “vague talking points” to try to win past ballot measures. “It wasn’t a direct issue or how people would be hurt,” she said. “What is at stake is whether or not there can be limits on abortion, whether we can have unfettered abortion. »

In Ohio, anti-abortionists rely on arguments that the amendment would encourage “abortion up to the time of birth.” An ad that aired during the Ohio State-Notre Dame football game featured Donald Trump’s warning: “In the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip it out of the mother’s womb. »

Data shows that late-term abortions are rare and usually performed in cases where doctors say the fetus will not survive. In Ohio, there were approximately 100 abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy in 2020.

National groups have invested money, making this an unusually expensive off-year race. Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, the coalition of abortion rights groups that support the amendment, has spent $26 million since Labor Day, nearly three times as much as Protect Women Ohio, and the largest Some of that money comes from out of state.

At the market hall, the group of pediatricians leading the “yes” campaign focused primarily on people who had heard of the amendment and supported it.

One voter, Ashley Gowens, introduced herself to one of the doctors as “Stephanie’s mother,” thanking him for “standing up for my daughter’s rights.” Ms. Gowens worried that abortion rights supporters might be misled by the ballot wording or might not realize they needed to vote again — and differently — after the August election called by the Republicans. “I know it was done deliberately,” she said. “The only way to make this fail was to confuse people.”

David Pepper, former chairman of the state Democratic Party, said he, too, fears that the August election has sapped some energy and that anti-abortion, counter-extremism messages will appeal to residents’ reluctance of Ohio to amend their Constitution.

“You kind of have to move the table with your arguments, and they all have to be compelling enough for people to vote yes,” he said. “All you have to do to convince someone to vote ‘no’ is give them one reason. »

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