The US state of Ohio voted to enshrine abortion rights in its constitution on Tuesday, marking a major victory for pro-choice campaigners in the state.
The BBC’s US partner CBS News projected a decisive victory for the amendment. Early returns showed almost 56% of voters in the conservative-leaning state had backed it.
Its success is likely to bolster Democrats’ hopes that abortion rights remain a winning issue ahead of elections in 2024. It also extends an unbeaten record for ballot measures designed to protect abortion rights since the nationwide right to the procedure was rescinded by the Supreme Court last year. This is the seventh such measure to pass.
But Ohio’s measure, known as Issue 1, was widely seen as the toughest fight so far for abortion rights supporters as it was the first Republican-led state to consider changing its constitution to explicitly guarantee the right. The amendment will change the state’s constitution to include protections for abortion access.
It will establish “an individual right to one’s reproductive medical treatment”, including abortion, contraception, and miscarriage care. Supporters of the amendment warned voters that unless it passed, more restrictive laws could be introduced, including a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions. Abortion is currently legal in Ohio until 22 weeks of pregnancy.
As votes were still being counted in the early hours, there were emotional celebrations from pro-choice supporters as US media projected the constitutional amendment would pass. “This is one of the greatest moments of my life, working so hard with my team beside me to achieve reproductive rights and freedoms in Ohio,”
Kate Gillie told the BBC at one watch party. “We’ve got two little girls, and this is about their future and their reproductive rights,” another person at the party, Frank Tedeschi, said.
The amendment will change the state’s constitution to include protections for abortion access. It will establish “an individual right to one’s reproductive medical treatment”, including abortion, contraception, and miscarriage care.
It explicitly prohibits the state from “directly or indirectly burdening, penalising, or prohibiting abortion” before viability, which is generally considered to be around 23 weeks of pregnancy. The amendment does allow the state to bar abortion after the point of viability except in instances where the patient’s doctor determines the procedure is needed to protect life or health.
Opponents of the measure have expressed concern over this element, telling voters it would allow for “late-term abortions” – a non-medical term referring to abortions later in pregnancy. But supporters of Issue 1 argued that any abortions later in pregnancy would require sign-off from a medical professional attesting to serious health concerns.
Ohio Republicans, who control the legislature and governorship, hinted they would introduce new ballot measures around abortion in response. Jason Stephens, the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, promised his supporters that there are “multiple paths we will explore to continue to protect innocent life”.
Tuesday’s result offers clues about voters’ views on abortion more than a year after Roe was overturned. Democrats, including President Joe Biden, will hope the issue continues to energise voters ahead of next year’s elections.
“Ohioans and voters across the country rejected attempts by MAGA Republican elected officials to impose extreme abortion bans,” Mr. Biden said in a statement on Tuesday night. Two other elections on Tuesday, one in Kentucky, and the other in Virginia, will also impact abortion access in the months ahead.
In the southern state of Kentucky, the re-election of Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, who ran ads attacking his opponent on his strict anti-abortion stance, is being considered a win for activists fighting to maintain abortion access in the state.
And in Virginia, Democrats – who campaigned against Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s push to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy – won control of both legislative chambers. The results in Ohio are also being watched in Arizona and Missouri, states that are both considering including similar ballot measures next year.