Issue 1, a cynical attempt to persuade Ohioans to vote away their own power, goes down to resounding defeat. The way is cleared for reproductive autonomy to become a protected right in the Buckeye State.

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Abortion rights extended their winning streak in Ohio this summer. Progressives and freethinkers have reason to cheer as Issue 1 went down to defeat.

In 2019, Ohio governor Mike DeWine signed a total ban on abortion, which went into effect when the right-wing Supreme Court repealed Roe. It’s this law that gave rise to the infamous case of a pregnant 10-year-old rape victim who had to go to Indiana for an abortion.

(When this story was first reported, right-wingers angrily insisted it must be a fabrication intended to make them look bad. When it was proven to be true, they went silent.)

Since then, Ohio’s abortion ban has been ping-ponging between state courts. It’s currently blocked again. However, pro-choice groups saw no reason to leave the final outcome up to the discretion of a judge. Polls show that abortion rights enjoy support from a majority of Ohio residents. So they gathered signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot which would make reproductive choice a human right. It will go before the voters in November, and polls say it should pass easily.

Cynical and contemptuous tactics

Sensing their looming defeat, Ohio Republicans tried to cut it off at the knees. The legislature proposed their own constitutional amendment, Issue 1, which would have raised the threshold for passing future amendments from a simple majority to a 60% supermajority. It also would have made the process for getting an amendment on the ballot more arduous.

That was a cynical tactic, since polls showed support for abortion rights at just under 60% (literally, 59%). However, what they did next showed even more contempt for voters.

The legislature hastily scheduled Issue 1 for an August special election—historically, a time of rock-bottom turnout. As recently as January, those same legislators moved to outlaw August special elections on the grounds of low turnout, only to do an about-face. Clearly, Ohio Republicans were hoping that no one would pay attention and only their backers would show up.

Instead, in a classic case of the Streisand Effect, their efforts to ensure a low-turnout election ensured massive publicity and voter interest. It shone a spotlight on their scheme, and voters responded. It didn’t hurt that pro-choice advocates had tapes of Issue 1’s sponsors, including Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, admitting that it was intended to forestall the abortion amendment.

More than 3 million voters cast ballots. That’s staggering turnout for a special election in the dog days of summer. It’s almost double the number of people who typically vote in Ohio primaries, and five times the number that showed up for the last August election.

When the votes were all in, Issue 1 lost by a resounding margin, 57% to 43%. As it turns out, citizens don’t want to vote away their own power. It’s a stinging rebuke to conservatives who are angling for permanent minority rule.

More dirty tricks thwarted

This wasn’t the only dirty trick that anti-choicers pulled to try to thwart the will of the people. They also filed a lawsuit to get the pro-abortion amendment stricken from the ballot on a technicality, arguing it should have explicitly listed the laws it would repeal. The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously rejected this argument. (The court answered one technicality with another: a constitutional amendment doesn’t “repeal” an existing law, it voids it.)

The defeat of Issue 1 is a bellwether for reproductive freedom in Ohio. It’s a sign to right-wing legislators that, for all their gerrymandering and voter suppression, they’re not above the will of the voters. They can’t expect to have their own way forever without the majority getting a chance to have its say.

It also clears the way for more progressive constitutional amendments. Next on tap in Ohio, there’s one to raise the minimum wage and another to create a bipartisan redistricting commission to fix gerrymandered congressional maps.

And more pro-choice constitutional amendments are coming soon in other states. From Politico:

Similar efforts to put abortion rights to a popular vote are also brewing in Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Nevada and South Dakota. Activists in many of these states are hoping to get the issue before voters in 2024, in which turnout will be especially high due to the presidential election.

Abortion rights won big in Ohio. Here’s why it wasn’t particularly close.” Madison Fernandez, Alice Ollstein and Zach Montellaro. Politico, 8 August 2023.

It’s now very clear that abortion is a winning issue for Democrats, even in red states. According to a PRRI poll from February 2023, almost two-thirds of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, including majorities in many traditionally red states. What’s more, abortion is a motivating issue. It energizes voters and drives huge turnout.

In their single-minded drive to ban abortion at all costs, Republicans are running directly against the will of the majority. They’re setting themselves up to lose in states where by all rights they should win. If they were willing to moderate their beliefs, they’d likely be able to win many of these voters back. Instead, they’re becoming more and more anti-democratic.

DAYLIGHT ATHEISM—Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...

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