American voters support abortion rights, even in traditionally conservative states. Ohio is the next state where polls show the pro-choice position could cruise to victory—and to prevent that, Republicans want to make it harder for citizens to make their voices heard.
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When a stacked Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, it was a victory for the religious right that they’d been pursuing for decades. It may yet be a victory they’ll come to regret.
In 2022, reproductive freedom won everywhere it was on the ballot. Wherever Americans had the chance to vote directly on protecting abortion rights, they chose to do so.
This winning streak affirms what polls have shown: across state and party lines, a solid majority of Americans support abortion rights. The noisy, belligerent anti-choice movement is a minority. The only reason they’ve enjoyed success is because of gerrymandered legislatures, popular-vote-losing presidents, and other anti-democratic quirks of the American system that allow a minority to overrule the wishes of the majority.
Choice in the Buckeye State
Defenders of bodily autonomy are eager to replicate last year’s successes. One of the states they’ve set their sights on is Ohio.
Like other states with Republican-controlled legislatures, Ohio wasted no time passing an abortion ban. That ban was allowed to go forward by one judge, then blocked by another. It’s currently on hold as it fights its way through state courts.
However, polls show that a strong majority of Ohioans support amending the state constitution to make abortion a fundamental right. Pro-choice activists pounced on this obvious opportunity.
Ohio requires about 400,000 signatures to put a constitutional amendment before voters. Backers for a pro-choice amendment submitted 700,000. Frank LaRose, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, has until July 25 to certify whether it will appear on the ballot in November 2023.
With such an overwhelming safety margin, it seems like a no-brainer that Ohioans will get to have their say. And if the polls are right, the pro-choice amendment will pass with flying colors. Even so, expect shenanigans.
One of those shenanigans is unfolding right now. Currently, the threshold in Ohio for voters to amend the state constitution is a simple majority. However, the Republican-controlled legislature wants to change that.
As recently as December 2021, the legislature voted to ban most August special elections, citing high cost to taxpayers and low turnout. At the time, Secretary of State Frank LaRose testified as follows:
In testimony on House Bill 458 in December, LaRose wrote about some August 2020 special elections with what he called “embarrassingly low turnout” of 11.8% and 6.8%.
“That means just a handful of voters end up making big decisions. The side that wins is often the one that has a vested interest in the passage of the issue up for consideration. This isn’t how democracy is supposed to work.”
…”These unnecessary ‘off-cycle’ elections aren’t good for taxpayers, election officials. or the civic health of our state. It’s time for them to go!” wrote LaRose in that testimony.“After supporting elimination of August elections, Secretary of State now says sometimes they’re ok.” Karen Kasler, The Statehouse News Bureau, 28 March 2023.
But the legislature and LaRose have done an abrupt about-face. They’ve proposed their own constitutional amendment, Issue 1, and scheduled it for a hasty August special election.
The radical majority
If it passes, the Republicans’ Issue 1 would raise the approval threshold for constitutional amendments to 60%. It would make the signature-gathering requirements more onerous, requiring signatures to come from all of Ohio’s 88 counties, rather than the current 44. It would eliminate the “cure” period for voters to fix defective ballots. All these changes would make it far harder to get an amendment on the ballot and to approve it.
Why the sudden urgency to hold an off-cycle special election in the dead of summer, something they previously decried? The answer is obvious, and there’s a tape confirming it: LaRose privately told backers that it’s to stop the pro-choice amendment from passing in November.
Every single time LaRose has been asked if Issue 1 was related to an abortion vote, he has denied it.
“If this is about one specific issue, then somebody’s not really focused on what we’re trying to accomplish here,” the secretary said.
But the words he said to reporters appear different than when he spoke to his supporters.
“It’s 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” LaRose said.
Raw video obtained by News 5 from Scanner Media shows the secretary at Lincoln Day on May 22, 2023 in Seneca County, with what advocates call “saying the quiet part out loud.”“Ohio Sec. of State LaRose admits move to make constitution harder to amend is ‘100% about… abortion’.” Morgan Trau, News 5 Cleveland, 2 June 2023.
The blazing hypocrisy of this is that the pro-choice position he calls “radical” has majority support from Ohio voters. And he knows it—or else he wouldn’t be trying to raise the bar for passage! If anyone is radical, it’s the faction that wants to impose a minority’s extreme views on the rest of the populace.
One of the co-sponsors of Issue 1 offers additional confirmation:
At least it was until December, when in a letter to Republican lawmakers Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Asheville), the legislation’s co-sponsor, made it clear that the main drivers were defeating abortion and gerrymandering amendments.
“After decades of Republicans’ work to make Ohio a pro-life state, the Left intends to write abortion on-demand into Ohio’s constitution,” Stewart wrote. “If they succeed, all the work accomplished by multiple Republican majorities will be undone and will return to 19,000+ babies being aborted each and every year.”“Finally, Frank LaRose confirms what we 100% already knew.” Howard Wilkinson, 91.7 WVXU, 7 June 2023.
Contempt for democracy
Ohio’s Issue 1 is just one example of a consistent pattern: In every state where they have power, Republicans try to make it harder for citizens to make their voices heard.
The Florida case wasn’t about abortion. Rather, it was a tantrum over a successful amendment to restore voting rights to felons who’ve completed their sentence, ending a Jim Crow policy of permanent disenfranchisement. While they couldn’t stop it from passing, Ron DeSantis and Florida Republicans weakened it by passing a poll tax that barred ex-convicts from voting unless they paid off any outstanding fines or court fees.
In all these cases, religious-right legislators have flaunted their contempt for democracy. They view voters as an obstacle to be overcome by any means necessary. They want to squat in the statehouses with gerrymandered majorities, above pesky things like the will of the people. If they could figure out a way to appoint their own successors, so they could rule permanently and never have to face elections again—rest assured, they’d do it.