Abortion rights amendment clears another hurdle in Ohio. Now the signature gathering begins
Organizers working to put to voters an amendment that would enshrine abortion rights into the state’s constitution have gotten the green light from the panel that determines statewide ballot issues.
Now backers of the amendment can start the process of gathering the nearly 414,000 valid petition signatures needed to put the issue before voters in November.
The Ballot Board is made up of three Republican members and two Democrats. But in the scope of this amendment, Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R-Ohio) noted the board had a limited duty.
“Our purpose here today and our sole purpose is to determine if this constitutes one change, one amendment to the Ohio Constitution. I know that there are deeply held beliefs and strong feelings on both sides of this issue and I anticipate in the state of Ohio over the next several months that that debate will continue in the public," LaRose said before the panel considered the proposal. "It is not our purpose to have a debate on the merits of this constitutional amendment."
But Republican Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) couldn’t resist weighing in with her opinion on it.
“I’m horrified at the thought of this amendment. I mean, the right to kill babies being put in Ohio’s constitution. Although I am very much opposed to the substance, the issue before us is procedural only, whether this is one question or more,” Gavarone said.
In the end, the board unanimously agreed it is one question. That means backers of the amendment can print the petitions and start getting signatures.
Jordyn Close, deputy director of the Ohio Women’s Alliance, another organization that’s working with the coalition, said her group is excited to have the opportunity to now start to gather petition signatures.
“We know that when we put the power back into the hands of Ohio voters, they have shown that they support the right to choose. Abortion is currently legal in Ohio up to 21 weeks and 7 days and so this initiative, I don’t see, really changing the gestational limits in the state largely,” Close said.
Close said she expects the large group of volunteers that have already been mobilized to start hitting the streets later this week to collect the petition signatures needed.
Dr. Amy Burkett, an OB/GYN from Northeast Ohio, is working with Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights – one of the groups in the coalition that’s supporting the proposed amendment. She said doctors need lawmakers to stay out of exam rooms and added decisions about maternal health should be between a doctor and the patient. And she said while those on the other side speak of “late-term abortions,” there is no such thing and this amendment protects a viable fetus.
“Because the amendment itself adjusts viability based on a physician’s best judgment and the technology that exists at the time,” Burkett explained.
The most recent Ohio Abortion Report shows 156 of the 21,813 abortions performed in the state in 2021 were at 21 weeks of gestation or more. Burkett said abortions are not performed after the point a fetus can survive outside the womb.
“If someone is past the point of viability, and needs to be delivered, we call that a labor induction or c-section,” Burkett said.
But Beth Vanderkooi, executive director of Greater Columbus Right to Life, said her group is ready and has a strategy to fight it.
“We’re going to be engaging people from all over this state to first make the case that Ohioans should decline to sign their initiative and then, if need be, we will be taking a message door to door, all through the summer and all through the fall that their proposal is so extreme that it would provide for unlimited abortion including late in pregnancy when a perfectly healthy baby could otherwise be delivered,” Vanderkooi said.
The coalition will have to collect the signatures by July 5 to put the issue on the Ohio ballot.