© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Analysis: Anti-abortion rights groups tried to change the subject on Issue 1. They failed

A sign against Issue 1 sits in a leaf-filled residential yard
Joshua A. Bickel
A sign supporting Issue 1 sits in a residential yard on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Cincinnati.

Ohio Right to Life and their allies in the anti-abortion rights movement seemed to know they couldn't win by attacking the idea of reproductive rights, so they tried to change the subject.

They ran a campaign based on claims that Issue 1 would take away parental rights; that parents would not be able to stop their children from having sex change operations.

 They claimed, too, that Issue 1 would allow abortions to take place right up to the moment of birth — a claim found nowhere in the language of the amendment.

 Ohio voters weren't buying it.

The issue passed with ease. With 53% of the state's vote counted, Issue 1 had 56% of the unofficial vote count.

It was approved overwhelmingly by voters in all of the state's major urban counties — 72% in Hamilton County. It also picked up support in some traditionally Republican counties. It was leading with 53% in Butler County and 59% in Delaware County, just north of Columbus.

RELATED: See how each county voted on Issue 1

Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters was among the abortion rights supporters celebrating the passage of Issue 1 Tuesday.

"Tonight was a great victory for women and families across the state," Walters said in a written statement. "While corrupt, out-of-touch politicians once again tried to strip Ohioans of their fundamental rights, Ohio voters told these politicians that we won't go back. For the second time this year, Ohioans sent a message loud and clear, and we hope that their elected officials will finally listen."

Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, an organization whose mission is to "rescue" pregnant women from abortion, said in a written statement that "Big Abortion won, while women, parents, and babies lost."

In August, Ohio voters sent a message to the GOP when they overwhelmingly defeated a ballot issue that would have required constitutional amendments like the one voters approved Tuesday to reach a 60% threshold for passage.

It was aimed directly at trying to stop the abortion rights amendment that was on Tuesday's ballot.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2002, voters in six states have voted in favor of abortion rights. They are deep red states like Kansas and Kentucky, blue states like California. Doesn't seem to matter.

Ohio, a state that has voted for Barack Obama and Donald Trump in the past four presidential elections, is now the seventh.

RELATED: Ohioans vote to put abortion and reproductive rights in the state's constitution

Clearly, a majority of Americans — and Ohioans — have no interest in doing away with a woman's right to make her own reproductive health care decisions.

This is the best argument yet that the Republican Party and conservatives in general have hung their hat on the wrong side of the issue, according to the American people.

Ohio's vote Tuesday on Issue 1 has been the subject of intense coverage from the national news media and has been debated nearly every day for weeks by cable news channels — from MSNBC to CNN to Fox News.

This was an extremely expensive campaign, with at least $65 million spent on both sides. The money has poured in from out-of-state by the millions, as Ohio became the latest battleground over abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe.

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, which backed Issue 1, raised $39.4 million since the beginning of the campaign in February and spent $26.3 million as of mid-October. Nearly $20 million was spent on television ads.

Protect Women Ohio, which opposed Issue 1, raised nearly $27 million since March and had spent nearly $24.3 million of it as of mid-October.

Post-election campaign finance reports will drive the cost of this election even higher.

Ohio's Catholic Dioceses raised nearly $1 million for the anti-Issue 1 campaign — $500,000 from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati alone.

Thousands of "No on Issue 1" yard signs were distributed to parishioners throughout Ohio; and nearly every Catholic church had large campaign signs outside the church doors.

RELATED: Religious perspectives in Ohio on Issue 1 vary by faith, denominations

Many proponents of Issue 1 took to social media to question whether or not the campaigning by the Catholic church was a violation of the church's tax-exempt status.

But, under federal tax laws, it was perfectly legal — although many Catholics questioned the wisdom of using church funds for that purpose. IRS rules prohibit 501c(3) organizations from funding candidate campaigns, but expressly allow it in issue campaigns.

For at least the past 50 years, since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, the argument over abortion has been an issue where people on both sides have been locked on their respective positions, come hell or high water.

For the vast majority of voters — in Ohio and elsewhere — it has been a simple choice: either you are for abortion rights or you are against them.

Ohio's chief elections officer, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, is a fervently anti-abortion rights and, as a candidate for the 2024 Republican U.S. Senate nomination, has promised to support a nationwide abortion ban.

LaRose clearly used his power over the Issue 1 ballot language to put his thumb on the scales of the issue.

Last month, the three Republicans on the Ohio Ballot Board — led by chairman LaRose — made changes to the ballot language of Issue 1 that backers of the amendment said amounted to anti-abortion rights propaganda.

The rewritten ballot language referred to a fetus as an "unborn child" and substitutes "pregnant woman" for "pregnant patient."

RELATED: What does Ohio's Issue 1 say on miscarriage care and other reproductive rights?

It also says that the amendment would allow the right to "one's own reproductive medical treatment." The amendment itself — the language that would appear in the constitution if the issue passes — says people would have the right to "make and carry out one's own reproductive decisions."

Backers of the amendment believed it was a subtle reference to anti-abortion rights groups' oft-stated claim that if the amendment is passed, minors would be able to get sex change operations without parental consent.

It was a theme that, in the end, fell flat with Ohio voters.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.