November 30, 2023

Votes in Ohio approved a measure on Tuesday that enshrines the right to an abortion and other forms of reproductive health care in the state constitution, notching another victory for abortion rights supporters in a conservative-leaning state since last year’ fall of Roe v. Wade.

The measure was projected to succeed by the Associated Press as votes were still being tallied, with the “yes” votes far outweighing the ballots cast against the measure.

Ohio is now the seventh state where voters have ensured abortion access is protected after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that overturned the right to the procedure in the U.S.

Heather Williams, interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to state legislatures, said the vote in favour of abortion rights was a “huge victory.”

“Ohio’s resounding support for this constitutional amendment reaffirms Democratic priorities and sends a strong message to the state GOP that reproductive rights are non-negotiable,” she said in a statement.

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U.S. President Joe Biden also celebrated the result in a statement released by the White House, warning efforts to limit or ban abortion were “out of step with the vast majority of Americans.”

“Tonight, Americans once again voted to protect their fundamental freedoms — and democracy won,” he said.

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Roe v. Wade overturned: Abortion rights campaigners protest on 1 year anniversary of historic decision

Abortion has become a key issue for Democrats since the ruling, which sparked a number of states to pass restrictions or outright bans. Fourteen states ban abortion except in rare circumstances, and seven more restrict access to earlier stages of pregnancy.

About two-thirds of Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the earliest stages of pregnancy, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released in July. Ipsos polling released in June found that a similar number of U.S. adults agree the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe was a mistake, and that just over half opposed how their states have handled the issue of abortion over the past year.

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Before the Ohio vote, state-wide initiatives in California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont had either affirmed abortion access or turned back attempts to undermine the right. Voters in Arizona, Missouri and other states are expected to vote on similar protections next year.

Ohio’s constitutional amendment, on the ballot as Issue 1, included some of the most protective language for abortion access of any statewide ballot initiative since the Supreme Court’s ruling. It specifically declared an individual’s right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including birth control, fertility treatments, miscarriage and abortion.

It allowed the state to regulate the procedure after fetal viability, as long as exceptions were provided for cases in which a doctor determined the “life or health” of the woman was at risk. Viability was defined as the point when the fetus had “a significant likelihood of survival” outside the womb, with reasonable interventions.

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U.S. Supreme Court preserves abortion pill access—for now

Opponents had argued without evidence that the amendment would threaten parental rights, allow unrestricted gender surgeries for minors and revive “partial birth” abortions, which are federally banned.

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Earlier this year, voters rejected a measure that would have raised the threshold required for constitutional measures like Issue 1 to pass from a simple majority to 60 per cent.

Abortion on the ballot elsewhere

Tuesday saw several other state-wide races, some of which also saw abortion play a key role.

In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won a second term after fending off his Republican challenger, state attorney general Daniel Cameron. Beshear had criticized Cameron’s stance on abortion in ads and debates, making it a key issue of his campaign.

Cameron had voiced support for Kentucky’s complete ban on abortion, which makes no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. He later said he would sign those exemptions into law if he was elected.

Voters in Virginia were deciding which party will control the state’s general assembly and senate. Democrats were hoping to retain control of the state senate and continue blocking Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s pledge to pass a 15-week limit on abortion.

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Florida signs 6-week abortion ban into law

Democrats made protecting abortion access the centerpiece of their campaigns, while Republicans in many of the key swing districts have sided with Youngkin’s proposal, which makes exceptions for rape, incest and situations where the mother’s life is at risk. Similar legislation was defeated this year by Democratic state senators.

Other elections being held Tuesday included the Mississippi governor’s race and ballot measures in Maine and Colorado.

Ohio voters also approved a separate ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana.

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Cherelle Parker was elected Philadelphia’s 100th mayor, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

And in Rhode Island, Democrat Gabe Amo became the state’s first Black candidate elected to Congress.

— with files from the Associated Press

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