Hundreds of Pro-Life Students Fight to Prevent Passage of Ohio Abortion Referendum

A Yes vote would establish a new constitutional right to abortion, and a No vote would reject that language being added to the state Constitution.

Students for Life activists are ready to talk all things pro-life at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Students for Life activists are ready to talk all things pro-life at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. (photo: Photo courtesy of Students for Life of America)

As Election Day in Ohio nears, hundreds of pro-life students from across the state are rallying to defeat the Issue 1 referendum, which would amend the Ohio Constitution to establish a right to abortion. 

The proposed amendment would add a section to the state’s Bill of Rights that would create a new right to “reproductive freedom,” which includes, but is not limited to, abortion. A Yes vote would establish a new constitutional right to abortion, and a No vote would reject that language being added to the state Constitution.

Although the proposed amendment allows some restrictions after viability, activists fear the vague definitions provided in the text would allow abortions up to the point of birth and would end parental consent and notification for minors receiving abortions.

Protect Women Ohio, the pro-life coalition working to urge voters to reject the referendum, is running advertisements against the proposal, but its fundraising is outmatched about 3 to 1 by the pro-abortion campaign, which has received millions of dollars from out-of-state groups that support abortion. 

“We can’t match their advertising dollars, so the ground game, the work at the door [is very important],” Michelle Ashley, the Ohio director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA. 

SBA is leading the door-to-door canvassing effort to urge a No vote on Issue 1. The group’s canvassers include about 200 college students who, just this past weekend, knocked on 22,168 doors to encourage voters to reject the proposed amendment. 

“It’s an issue that’s really impacting our community and the people around [us] and our society,” Rachel Brake, a senior at Franciscan University of Steubenville, who has been canvassing door-to-door against the amendment, told CNA. 

Brake said there has been a mix of positive and negative interactions, but she believes the message behind the “No” campaign expresses “values that most of [the voters] agree with.”

Students working for SBA Pro-Life of America canvassing on behalf of SBA Pro-life America. Credit: Photo courtesy of SBA Pro-Life America

Students working for SBA Pro-Life of America canvass on behalf of SBA Pro-Life America. | Photo courtesy of SBA Pro-Life America

Although recent polling has shown that most registered voters support the amendment, Franciscan University junior Tanis Leatherman told CNA a lot of the voters he meets are “misinformed” or “confused” about what the amendment would do. 

He said he has convinced some voters to oppose the referendum “by showing them how extreme and how unclear and just how dangerous the amendment is.”

“Most people are on our side just because of how extreme the amendment is,” Leatherman, who is currently taking a few semesters away from college to pay down loans, said. 

When voters are unsure whether they will support the referendum, Leatherman said he lets them know that “a Yes vote is a lot more dangerous than a No vote because a Yes vote cannot be undone; it will be written into Ohio’s Constitution forever.”

In addition to door-knocking, some pro-life students have been active on their campuses, encouraging their classmates to oppose Issue 1. Much of the on-campus activism has come from student groups associated with Students for Life of America. 

Morgan Reece, the president of the Students for Life of America Bowling Green State University chapter called Falcons for Life, told CNA the group is regularly engaging with students through tabling, which included “a huge anti-Issue 1 [table] display.” 

The group also set up large banners on a bridge overlooking the highway in Bowling Green and has engaged in canvassing and phone banking to encourage voters to oppose the referendum. 

Pro-life students at Cleveland State University phonebank to encourage Ohioans to vote "no" on Issue 1. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Students for Life of America

Pro-life students at the Cleveland State University phone bank encourage Ohioans to vote No on Issue 1. | Photo courtesy of Students for Life of America

In a blog post on Students for Life of America’s website on Oct. 31, Cleveland State University campus coordinator Ilyssa Freiburger said that even though the pro-life events on campus will face some hostility from pro-abortion students, “the mind-changing conversations make it all worth it.” 

“Tabling and talking with students has made a noticeable difference,” Freiburger said. 

“Nearly every person I’ve had a conversation with has had no idea the ramifications of Issue 1. Most are largely uninformed on Issue 1 and simply believe it will protect women. However, through conversations at our SFLA table, that changes. When they learn and read for themselves that Issue 1 will allow abortion up until birth, many decide to vote [against the referendum],” she said. 

The election is on Tuesday, Nov. 7, but early voting has already started. Turnout for the referendum is expected to be much higher than usual for an off-year election.

The Alabama State House, located in Montgomery, Alabama.

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