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Destroying Democracy to Ban Abortion
Ohio Republicans say they'll strip the courts of power to stop Issue 1
If you thought that Ohio’s ballot measure win meant that Republicans would stop attacking democracy—boy were you wrong! In response to voters’ overwhelming support for Issue 1, which will enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, Republicans have made clear that they plan to overturn the will of the people.
First, twenty-seven Republican House members signed onto a letter saying, “We will do everything in our power to prevent our laws from being removed…We were elected to protect the most vulnerable in our state.” And The Columbus Dispatch reported this week that House Speaker Jason Stephens said, “The legislature has multiple paths that we will explore to continue to protect innocent life.”
We expected this somewhat: Ohio Republicans spent months undermining democratic norms to prevent Issue 1 from passing, making very clear in the process that they don’t give a shit what voters want. So it makes sense, now that the amendment has passed, that they’d do everything in their power to keep it from repealing their abortion ban.
But in this press release, Republican legislators make clear they’re not just going to do everything within their power—but anything outside of it, as well. The short version? Republicans say they’ll prevent the courts from allowing Issue 1 to take effect:
“To prevent mischief by pro-abortion courts with Issue 1, Ohio legislators will consider removing jurisdiction from the judiciary over this ambiguous ballot initiative. The Ohio legislature alone will consider what, if any, modifications to make to existing laws based on public hearings and input from legal experts on both sides.”
They are threatening to strip power from the courts in order to keep abortion banned! As the Ohio Capital Journal points out, the abortion rights amendment doesn’t take effect until December 7th of this year, and each abortion restriction needs to be individually taken to court and repealed. So what Republicans are suggesting is that they don’t want those restrictions decided by judges, but them.
In the release, Ohio legislators also claim that “foreign billionaires” and “foreign election interference” allowed Issue 1 to pass. This gets at something I wrote about yesterday: They have to paint their opposition as a Big Bad Enemy, because otherwise they’d need to admit that their actual political opposition are just individual women who voted against them.
All of this is wildly undemocratic, of course, even by their standards. (I’ve attached the press release here, as well, in case they decide to take it down.)
Over at Slate, law professor Mary Ziegler writes that there are other ways that the amendment could be stymied by Republicans: through the courts themselves. “[T]he people ultimately interpreting the new constitutional amendment are the judges of the Ohio Supreme Court,” she writes. And Republicans have a 4-3 majority.
All of which means, we won—but the fight isn’t close to over.
Attacks in Other States
Thanks to the incredible pro-choice win in Ohio, abortion rights advocates in other states are feeling all the more energized about their own ballot measure efforts.
Here’s where abortion may be on the ballot in 2024: Arizona, Missouri, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Maryland, New York and Washington. (There are also anti-abortion activists working on ballot measures in Iowa and Colorado.) And just yesterday, Minnesota Democrats said that they’re also considering a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights next session—which would put the issue in front of voters next fall. I found this Associated Press map useful if you need a visual of the state-by-state breakdown:
We know what that means: All of the bullshit we saw in Ohio (and more) will be exported to any state considering a pro-choice measure. It’s already started, for example, in Florida, where activists are in the process of collecting signatures for an abortion rights amendment.
Abortion is banned in Florida after 15 weeks, but Republicans have also passed a 6-week ban. Before the 6-week ban can go into effect, the state Supreme Court needs to issue a ruling on a challenge against the current 15-week ban. Because the Court is stacked with Ron DeSantis appointees, the expectation is that they’ll rule in favor of it, and the 6-week ban will be enacted. That makes the passage of this amendment even more important—not just for Floridians, but people in the entire region who travel to the state for abortion care.
As abortion rights advocates collect signatures for their measure, Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody is petitioning the state Supreme Court to stop the amendment from ever getting to voters. (More on that effort here.)
Floridians Protecting Freedom, however, released a statement this week about Ohio’s win, saying that the victory “only strengthens our resolve to return the freedom to make decisions about abortion to the people of Florida, where it belongs.”
Florida activists have clearly already taken lessons from the attacks launched against Ohio’s measure. The proposed amendment in Florida, for example, contains language about parental rights—which was one of the biggest anti-abortion lies about Ohio’s Issue 1. The amendment says that it “does not change the legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.”
This is important: POLITICO reports that Florida activists aren’t getting the same level of out-of-state donations that we saw in Ohio—which is disappointing to hear, because Florida is a key state for abortion access in the South. (Know a donor? Send them here!)
Abortion, Every Day has also been watching Missouri closely, as Republicans try the same dirty tricks that the Ohio GOP pulled—from state leaders pushing a false ballot summary to the Attorney General threatening to quit if voters restore abortion rights. For more background, check out my piece from earlier this week:
In the wake of Ohio’s win, anti-abortion activists in Missouri are claiming that they’re not worried because pro-choicers haven’t started collecting signatures yet. But the reason they haven’t been able to collect signatures is because of the Republican hold-ups! (They weren’t allowed to gather signatures, for example, until the AG signed off on the cost estimate for the amendment—which, after months of stalling, he had to be forced into doing by the state Supreme Court.)
We’ve also seen anti-democratic attacks in South Dakota, where petitioners had to sue over mandates that they not collect signatures in certain high-traffic areas. All of which is to say: there are going to be a lot of anti-democratic attacks in the months ahead. So it’s time to gear up!
For some quick reads and background:
The New Yorker on the lessons of Ohio’s Issue 1 win;
The Associated Press has more on Maryland’s ballot measure effort;
And for more on upcoming measures more broadly, check out KFF Health News (which is a terrific resource generally) and their podcast episode this week on Tuesday’s abortion rights wins:
Abortion, Every Day will have more on each ballot measure initiative as they move forward. But remember: pro-choice amendments can’t be passed everywhere. Only half of the states in the country allow citizen-led initiatives, so we absolutely need federal protection, too.
That said, I’ll leave you with a reminder of just how huge Ohio’s win is, from Vox reporter Rachel Cohen: