Ohio voters passed Issue 1. Now politicians and policy wonks are trying to read the tea leaves
Ohio voters on Tuesday elected to codify reproductive rights in the state constitution with the passage of Issue 1. That puts reproductive decisions in the hands of citizens instead of the state government, including making choices on abortion, contraception, fertility care, miscarriage care and continuing pregnancy.
The amendment will take effect 30 days after the election, on Dec. 7.
Here's what else Issue 1's passage means for Ohio.
Passage of the constitutional amendment deems Ohio's previous Heartbeat Law abortion ban unconstitutional. The 2019 ban outlawed abortion after six weeks' gestation.
Ohio enacted the Heartbeat Law immediately following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health decision in June 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The ban was in effect only a matter of months before it was put on hold by a Hamilton County Court judge after several groups, including doctors, filed a lawsuit in September 2022, claiming Ohioans have the right to abortion under the state’s 2011 health care freedom amendment.
Now that passage of Issue 1 will enact a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights, the Ohio Supreme Court will still need to decide if doctors can sue on behalf of their patients.
Although Issue 1 passed, abortions can still be prohibited after fetal viability under the amendment, according to the ballot language.
Fetal viability is typically around 24 weeks of gestational age, according to the National Institutes of Health. After that point, abortion could be permitted "if in the professional opinion of the pregnant patient's treating physician it is necessary to protect the pregnant patient's life or health," the ballot language said.
Opponents of Issue 1 ran a campaign claiming that the amendment was "anti-parent" and encouraged sex change operations for minors without parental consent, though the amendment's official language makes no mention of health care for transgender minors or instances of parental consent.
Republican Attorney General Dave Yost said in a legal analysis of Issue 1 that, though it's likely to be challenged, "the Amendment does not specifically address parental consent."
Abigail Moncrieff, an associate professor at Cleveland State University College of Law, previously told Ideastream Public Media that the amendment is unlikely to disrupt doctors' obligation to obtain parents' consent before treatments since minors are legally incapable of consenting on their own behalf. Parents will retain the power to consent or withhold consent, on behalf of their minor children.
"From my perspective, this does not have any impact on parents' rights," Moncrieff said. "There has to be state action for a constitutional right to play at all in a parent's decision to refuse that kind of treatment to the child. It doesn't get touched by the Reproductive Freedom Amendment."
Is the fight over?
Republican lawmakers said the battle over abortion rights is far from over, saying they'll seek paths to repeal or replace the measure.
Senate President Matt Huffman issued a statement Tuesday night, saying, "This isn't the end. This is the beginning of a revolving door of ballot campaigns to repeal or replace Issue 1."
“The legislature has multiple paths that we will explore to continue to protect innocent life. This is not the end of the conversation," House Speaker Jason Stephens added in a statement shortly after the race was called.
Karen Kasler, Ohio Statehouse News Bureau Chief, noted that state Republicans could rally to put an abortion issue on the March ballot, but voter and donor fatigue could have an impact.
Kellie Copeland, executive director for Pro-Choice Ohio, said that her organization and its collaborators will continue their fight if needed.
"The legislature's certainly a threat and voters need to keep an eye on that," Copeland said. "...This was a massive coalition that's not going anywhere. We're going to make sure that, whether through legal action or political action, that the will of the people, that their constitutional right to abortion, to fertility treatment, to contraception, to continuing their pregnancy, all of that will remain protected."
What does this mean for Ohio politics?
"I think that this proves Ohio is a purple state," said Matt Cox, founder and president of Capitol Partners, a government advocacy and media relations firm. "How do you have this result happen? This is a higher percentage of the vote than Donald Trump got as president either time. It shows that if young people are engaged, then different things can happen than what has been happening over the last decade."
There were 18 Ohio counties that voted for Trump in 2020 that voted in favor of Issue 1 Tuesday, Kasler noted.
"I think when you look at these margins, particularly for Issue 1, some of these counties were pretty substantial in voting against Issue 1, but there were others that are reliably Republican counties where the margin was only four to six points in terms of a defeat, which means you had 35, 40% plus of those voters who voted for Issue 1 in those counties," added Tom Sutton, a political science professor at Baldwin Wallace University.
Sutton also noted that for the Democratic party to capitalize they will need to fine-tune their efforts.
"We need to see the democratic party getting really serious about, how do you raise candidates? How do you campaign competitively in these rural areas and continue working on your mobilization efforts in the urban areas as well?" Sutton said.
What does this mean nationally?
Ohio was the only state to vote directly on reproductive rights this election, meaning other states were watching as more red states could vote on abortion in future elections.
Ohio is the seventh state to vote to affirm abortion rights since the Dobbs' decision. It's also the fourth Republican-run state where voters have upheld the right to abortion.
"We were in contact with folks in Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan, and we will support our colleagues in other states in their quest for reproductive freedom," Copeland said.