Ohio at the Crossroads: Voters to Decide Fate of Pro-Life Laws

Voters in Ohio are facing crucial referendums on Aug. 8 and Nov. 7 that could broadly enshrine the sexual revolution into state law.

‘Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio’
‘Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio’ (photo: aceshot1 / Shutterstock)

Pro-abortion forces in Ohio are gearing up to try to force a referendum vote this November to legalize abortion-on-demand but are facing opposition. “Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights” claimed to have delivered more than 700,000 signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office on July 5. To qualify currently, Secretary of State Frank LaRose would have to certify approximately 414,000 as valid.

Whether the pro-abortion initiative makes the November ballot and whether it passes depends on the outcome of a special referendum Aug. 8. In the referendum, voters are being asked to raise the qualifying sample of counties from which signatures come from the current 44 (half of Ohio) to 88 (all Ohio) counties. It would also require any referendum to win 60% voter approval, up from the current 50% plus 1 rule. Advocates argue that the current procedures are too lax, making it easy for special interests to force their agendas into the Ohio Constitution. Right-to-life forces in Ohio urge a “yes” vote on the Aug. 8 referendum and are working to turn out voters in the dog days of summer.

The “Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative” is deemed especially radical because of its deliberately vague language. The amendment would enshrine the “right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including in the areas of “abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care, and continuing pregnancy.” The state would be barred from “interfering” with those decisions, except through “the least restrictive means to advance the individual’s health.” While theoretically permitting a ban on abortions after “viability,” the definition of viability is sufficiently vague to allow it to be circumvented.

Under the proposed amendment, Ohio’s current ban on abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy would fall. So, too, would restrictions against eugenic abortion (abortions because the unborn child is suspected to have Down syndrome) or bans on dilation and evacuation abortion. Informed consent using ultrasound, 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion, and prohibitions on taxpayer funding for abortion would likewise be thrown out under the amendment.

Because the amendment speaks of “reproductive decisions” to include undefined “fertility treatment,” it would also likely require public funding of in-vitro fertilization procedures and the use of surrogates for childbearing in homosexual “marriages.” It would also likely require state funding of contraception. Language on “reproductive decisions” could also likely be extended to include state support of transgender hormonal puberty-blockers and/or surgery, with parents excluded from the matter.

“This is not about returning Ohio abortion law to a ‘pre-Dobbs status’ as some activists have implied. This is about removing protections for all pre-born life,” said Laura Bride, executive director of Cincinnati Right to Life, one of the state’s oldest prolife organizations. “Ohio’s abortion cartel knows that ‘pre-Dobbs status’ is a code word for pretending that Roe v. Wade permitted some state restrictions on abortion when we know it allowed abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy. But this amendment goes way beyond even Roe. Besides enshrining abortion-on-demand, it would expand ‘reproductive choices’ to practically anything anybody wanted, paid for by Ohio taxpayers.” 

The Ohio Constitution requires that any referendum-initiated amendment be restricted to a single subject. Cincinnati Right to Life fought the amendment, arguing that its text smuggled in all sorts of other issues — contraception, artificial reproductive techniques, and even transgenderism — in violation of the single-subject rule. Their case went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which buckled to the broad language. Ohio’s ballot board then signed off on the amendment’s language without debate.

Under pro-life Governor Mike DeWine, Ohio enacted a “Heartbeat Bill” in 2022, restricting abortion once a fetal heartbeat was detected. Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Christian Jenkins issued an injunction against the law, claiming the Ohio Constitution contained a right to abortion (which he discovered after the federal right went away in Dobbs). The case is on appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, though not directly on the right to abortion question. No hearing has been set.

“While it was enacted for two and a half months, over 2,400 fewer abortions occurred in Ohio,” Bride noted. “In 2021, abortions rose close to 4% over the previous year, with a total of 21,813 preborn children slaughtered in Ohio.” By contrast, she added, neighboring states — which had just adopted stronger restrictions — hosted far fewer abortions. Kentucky saw 4,000, Indiana 8,000 per annum. “Ohio has a disgustingly enormous amount of pre-born child killings,” she added, attributing it to the culture-numbing impact of Roe. “Almost two generations have been taught abortion is nothing more than a root canal or a mammogram.”

Bride believes pro-lifers have a chance to staunch the abortion tide. “Ohio is a pro-life state. It is shown in our super-majority in our House and Senate in Columbus, in our Governor and down ticket offices. It is demonstrated by our votes for President Trump and our election of U.S. Senator J.D. Vance. More so, Ohio shows it is pro-life by the strong pro-life network that supports moms and babies and families in need. Ohioans know abortion is not healthcare. Ohioans know that a child loses their life in abortion. Ohioans are the founders of the pro-life movement and stand behind respecting life.” She added that Ohio has a strong Catholic presence that needs to mobilize, get out and vote.

She urged pro-life voters to turn out in force for the special referendum Aug. 8. “A simple majority makes things easily manipulable, especially by out-of-state pressure groups and money. We want to make sure any referendum represents the broad will of Ohio citizens, not special interests. Last November’s pro-abortion referendum in neighboring Michigan won with only 54% of the vote.” In low turnout, off-calendar elections and referenda, organized groups can have powerful impact on outcomes. “If Ohio loses these elections, it will be because of a deep force in our state and beyond, not because Ohioans didn’t pray, work and give it their all.”