Ohio vote tests abortion question one year ahead of 2024 race

Columbus, Ohio - Ohio will decide whether to guarantee the right to abortion in a potential 2024 bellwether Tuesday as both sides of the American political machine establish their campaign strategies on this crucial issue one year out from the presidential election.

This Election Day, Ohioans will vote on Issue 1, which would codify reproductive rights in the state constitution.
This Election Day, Ohioans will vote on Issue 1, which would codify reproductive rights in the state constitution.  © ANDREW SPEAR / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Voters will choose whether to amend the midwestern state's constitution to promise the freedom to "make and carry out one's own reproductive decisions, including... abortion," or to leave the document unchanged, allowing for a potential state ban.

The US Supreme Court revoked the national right to abortion last year when it overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, sending the decision on its legality back to each individual state.

In the 17 months since the court's decision, 14 states have effectively prohibited the procedure, while others have moved to enshrine the right to end a pregnancy within state law.

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In Ohio, the reversal of Roe v. Wade triggered a law that would halt all abortions after a heartbeat is detected in the womb, usually around six weeks of gestation – before many people even know they are pregnant.

The law is currently suspended as it winds its way through legal challenges, meaning that for now it is still possible to obtain an abortion in Ohio up to about 22 weeks of pregnancy.

But the law sparked a national outcry for the short time it was allowed to remain in effect last year, when a 10-year-old rape survivor was forced to travel to neighboring Indiana for an abortion after being denied care at home.

Ohio voters prepare to weigh in on abortion rights

Residents line up to cast their ballots during early voting on November 3, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio.
Residents line up to cast their ballots during early voting on November 3, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio.  © ANDREW SPEAR / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Though Election Day is Tuesday, Ohio voters have already been casting early ballots for weeks.

They can mark "yes" or "no" on a question of whether to change the state constitution to guarantee that "every individual has a right to make and carry out one's own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one's own pregnancy, miscarriage care and abortion."

The amendment would allow for the prohibition of abortion after "fetal viability" – when a fetus is able to survive on its own outside the womb – unless a doctor believes a pregnant patient's life or health is in danger.

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After the downfall of Roe, the pro-abortion rights camp notched several victories last year, including a referendum to protect reproductive rights in the Republican-controlled state of Kansas.

Now, the vote in Ohio is a chance for both sides to take stock and recalibrate their strategies ahead of the 2024 White House race.

Ohio messaging war picks up ahead of Election Day

Rhiannon Carnes, executive director and co-founder of the Ohio Women's Alliance, with her 1-year-old daughter Note, and organizer Lena Collins prepare to knock on doors in Columbus to speak with voters about the state's upcoming referendum on abortion rights.
Rhiannon Carnes, executive director and co-founder of the Ohio Women's Alliance, with her 1-year-old daughter Note, and organizer Lena Collins prepare to knock on doors in Columbus to speak with voters about the state's upcoming referendum on abortion rights.  © REUTERS

Supporters of Issue 1, as the amendment is called, have focused their messaging on preventing the government from interfering in residents' personal medical decisions.

Advocacy group Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights even made a religious appeal to drive home their point.

"As a pastor, I've counseled families on the most important personal decisions, even abortion. Abortion is a private family decision. Government needs to stay out of family decision making," Reverend Tim Ahrens says in one ad.

Issue 1 "gives families the freedom to make their own decisions without judgment and without the government getting involved. Vote yes," he urged.

But abortion rights opponents, including the group Protect Women Ohio, say the amendment is too "extreme."

"I know Ohioans are divided on the issue of abortion. But whether you're pro-life or pro-choice, Issue 1 is just not right for Ohio," the state's Republican Governor Mike DeWine urges voters in another ad.

"Issue 1 just goes too far" to "allow an abortion anytime during pregnancy," his wife Fran DeWine says in the clip – a claim blasted by abortion rights activists as misinformation.

Nationally, both sides will closely watch the outcome in Ohio – long considered a swing state, and which voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 – as the results are likely to shape the campaign conversation over the next year.

Cover photo: ANDREW SPEAR / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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