Parents ‘Shall Not Interfere’: Pro-Life Movement Sounds Alarm on Ohio Abortion Constitutional Amendment
Legal analysts say the amendment would do away with most limits on abortion and other reproductive procedures, including sex-change surgeries, and would cancel parental-consent laws.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A proposed Ohio constitutional amendment that not only could remove most restrictions on abortion but undermine parental-consent laws is being called a “Gettysburg moment” for the pro-life movement.
Keenly aware that efforts to defeat similar amendments or pass measures that would limit abortion are 0 for 6 since Roe v. Wade was overturned last June, pro-life forces have unified and organized early to defeat a proposed amendment that pro-abortion groups hope to place on the Nov. 7 ballot in the Buckeye state.
Known as the “Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety,” the amendment is being advanced by two groups: Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, a coalition of eight organizations that includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, and Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights. According to Ohio Right to Life, the first group has hired as its general counsel Mission Control, Inc., which claims to have passed progressive ballot initiatives and voter referenda across the country, even in red states. The second group, meanwhile, represents less than 4% of physicians in the state.
In 2022, similar amendments to establish state constitutional rights to abortion were approved in California, Michigan and Vermont. Meanwhile, Kansas and Kentucky voters turned down pro-life amendments that would have said there was no right to abortion in those states’ constitutions while Montana voters rejected an act that would have given infants born alive, including in the course of an abortion, the right to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.
Seeking a better outcome in their state, Ohio pro-life leaders have been in contact with their counterparts in states where losses occurred to assess what might be done differently. Ed Sitter, executive director of the Foundation for Life-Northwest Ohio, said one result has been a strong effort to unite all the pro-life organizations in the state. In Michigan, which borders Ohio on the north, Sitter said three different groups opposed the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment, but did not work together.
“We are one group united here in Ohio,” he said. “Everyone you could possibly think of in the family value voters community is united in a strategic campaign to defeat this thing.”
Laura Strietmann, executive director of Cincinnati Right to Life, said in talking with Catholic, conservative family members in Kentucky, Ohio’s neighbor to the south, about the election outcome there, she learned that everyone had voted differently. “When you work in the pro-life movement, you’re so accustomed to always being informed about abortion, but the average person around you is not informed and doesn’t understand the depth of the issue. Therefore, they were confused about what they were voting for.”
Strietmann is hopeful that with one strong coalition in Ohio, “Our unity will be more powerful in educating our state on what this vote actually means.”
Still, Strietmann said, the name of the amendment alone is deceptive and has the potential to confuse many Ohio voters. “To the low-informed voter, the amendment language presents a very positive narrative.” Yet, added Sitter, “There’s nothing in the language that talks about health and safety. To the contrary, it would remove every health and safety safeguard in the law that currently exists. It does nothing to advance the health and safety of a woman who would choose to have an abortion.”
Furthermore, although the Ohio measure is being presented as a way to add a right to abortion to the state constitution, Carrie Campbell Severino and Frank Scaturro of Judicial Crisis Network point out in an analysis in National Review that it also would do away with most limits on abortion and other reproductive procedures, including sex-change surgeries, and would cancel parental-consent laws and parental notification for minors who want to have such procedures.
Additionally, although the amendment would allow restrictions on abortion after a fetus has reached viability, Ohio Right to Life CEO Peter Range said an exception to protect the life and health of the mother is sufficiently open-ended that it could permit abortions in the seventh, eighth and ninth months of pregnancy.
“We need everyone in the country to realize this is a ‘Gettysburg moment’ for the pro-life movement,” Range said. In 2024, 11 states are expected to have such initiatives on the ballot, but in 2023, he added, “It’s all in Ohio. We want to show the rest of the nation how you win one of these battles.”
As pro-abortion groups began collecting the 413,000 valid signatures they need to gather by July 5 to get the amendment on the November ballot, pro-life forces responded swiftly with a multi-faceted campaign.
On March 15, Protect Women Ohio, a coalition of nearly 50 life, family and faith leaders, concerned parents and health and medical professionals, released a 30-second TV ad focusing on how the amendment would remove the parental-notification requirement for minors who want to have an abortion or sex-change operation.
Supporters of the amendment claim that there is nothing in it that would supersede Ohio’s parental consent laws. However, because it provides that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care and abortion,” Severino and Scaturro say that the proposal’s scope is sweeping and thus could extend to any medical procedure involving the human reproductive system.
Range is counting on the parental notification issue to help broaden the coalition opposing the amendment. “Most individuals,” he said, “even if they identify as liberals or Democrats, want to be involved in decisions their 14-year-old daughter is making when it comes to getting an abortion or even sex-change surgery.”
Yet another possible impact of the amendment has been raised by Michael New, a research associate at The Catholic University of America and associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. New points out in a National Review article that, if approved by voters, the amendment could lead to requiring Ohio’s Medicaid program to pay for elective abortions.
He writes that language in the proposed amendment could result in a judge finding that Ohio’s current policy preventing the state Medicaid program from paying for elective abortions burdens, penalizes or discriminates against recipients seeking abortions. If the Ohio program had to begin paying for the abortions, New said it could add more than $4 million a year to Ohioans’ tax burden.
Meanwhile, pro-life groups around the state, including those in Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo, are holding training sessions to help participants understand the amendment and what is at stake if it gets on the ballot and is approved. The sessions include information about the “Decline to Sign” movement, which trains individuals how to talk with voters at sites where pro-abortion advocates are gathering signatures.
In addition, two members of Cincinnati Right to Life have filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court against the Ohio Ballot Board alleging that it erred in determining that the proposed amendment would represent a single issue. Ohio law requires that proposals containing more than one issue be split into multiple amendments. The lawsuit states that the proposed amendment consists of several issues, calling for it to be split into separate initiatives. If this occurred, it would delay the gathering of signatures and increase the work and expense involved in obtaining them.
In yet another development that could affect the vote on the proposed amendment, some Ohio legislators have introduced a bill to hold a special election Aug. 8 on the question of requiring an approval threshold of 60% rather than a simple majority to amend the constitution. However, the Republican House speaker already has said he will not support the bill and both chambers will have to pass it with substantial majorities by early May if there is to be a special election in August.
Going forward, Margie Christie, executive director of Dayton Right to Life, said she believes Ohio’s pro-life advocates learned from what happened in other states and started planning early so they were not caught by surprise. “We know what messaging works and what doesn’t work and what people need to hear. In that respect, I think we’re on better footing than the other amendments were.”
Range said it is important that pro-life groups in Ohio not underestimate the other side and especially the money they will bring to the fight. “No doubt we are the underdogs when it comes to the financial piece, but I do believe Psalm 24 — ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.’ If people take this as a clarion call, a Kairos moment, I believe we will get the political support we need to defeat this.”