Groups backing abortion rights unite to put the issue before Ohio voters this November

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — A group of doctors and a coalition of abortion rights advocates are coming together to put an issue on the ballot this November that would, if passed, enshrine abortion rights in the Ohio constitution. They say the language for the proposed amendment hasn’t been released yet but will be sent to Attorney General Dave Yost soon to start the process of putting the issue on the ballot.

Abortion Rights protestors outside of the statehouse
[Daniel Konik | Statehouse News Bureau]
There has been some question about whether the issue should go on the ballot this November or next. The coalition had initially indicated it might wait until 2024.

But Dr. Marcela Azevedo, president of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, said it can’t wait.

“Going in 2023 was both a moral imperative and immediate medical emergency response. Over time, through specifically data and research that all of the teams have been conducting over the past few months, it is something that we are now united in purpose that in 2023 is not only the most strategic year to place this on both for political reasons and resource reasons but also for the medical imperatives that our patients need,” Azevedo said.

Azevedo’s group will work with Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, a coalition of abortion rights advocates including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and ProChoice Ohio. Kellie Copeland, executive director of ProChoice Ohio, said the conclusion to move ahead to pursue the issue on this November’s ballot was not rushed or pressured.

“Every decision that we have made has been made on research that we have done, on public polling and legal research and all of our decisions have been and will continue to be made based on that,” Copeland said.

Copeland said they know going through the process of getting the language approved will be a challenge because Yost is an anti-abortion stalwart.

“Every chance that he gets to run in front of a camera or file a brief in a lawsuit anywhere across the country to interfere with anyone’s ability to access abortion, he does so,” Copeland said.

Azevedo said the fact that Yost and other state leaders have pushed so hard to ban abortion is a reality that was considered. Ohio’s so called “heartbeat ban” bans abortion as soon as cardiac electronic fetal activity is detected – as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. It’s on hold right now but was in effect for much of the summer. Azevedo said data shows the ban had devastating health consequences on Ohio women during that time it was in place. Yost is appealing the decision to put that law on hold. And in November, Ohioans elected justices to the Ohio Supreme Court who could overturn that ban. Azevedo said that played into the decision to go in 2023 instead of waiting until 2024.

“We do expect the Ohio Supreme Court to be involved in the case to be involved in this case and we expect to be right back where we were on those terrible 11 weeks that the entire state was under the heartbeat ban,” Azeredo said.

Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said no one can predict what the state’s high court is going to do and he added justices don’t have the case in front of them right now, only the petition from Yost asking the court to take up the issue. Gonidakis said he expected the issue to be on the 2024 ballot alongside the race for the U.S. Senate. But he said his group is prepared to fight the ballot measure this year if it is certified for the ballot.

“We are in the process of creating our own campaign and we have been working for months at it. In fact, we have brought leaders from across the state to Columbus multiple times already to start our grass-roots initiative in all 88 counties,” Gonidakis said.

Gonidakis said his side has also been looking at polling and doing research to fight back on the measure.

“We are ready. We are in the field as well. The million dollar question is what will their ballot initiative be? Is it going to be late term abortion? Get rid of parental consent? You know, maybe. Is it going to be a ten week ban? A six week ban? I don’t know. Nobody knows until they submit language to the Ohio Attorney General which will become a public record and we can all review it of course. But until that time, it’s speculation at best,” Gonidakis said.

Gonidakis said his side is prepared to have this debate now.

“We want Ohioans to go to the ballot box to determine when life should be protected. Should we allow late-term abortion in Ohio? Let’s have that conversation,” Gonidakis said.