It was easy to miss — what with the permanent fire hose of news we live under — that this was a banner week for reproductive rights in Ohio! Pro-choice groups submitted nearly half a million valid signatures to place an amendment on the November ballot that would affirm that “every individual has the right to make and carry out one’s reproductive decisions” in the state constitution. This would block the GOP legislature and governor from further tampering with abortion access like they did before a judge temporarily blocked the state’s radical 2019 trigger law last year. And with abortion racking up wins on the ballot in places like Kansas and Kentucky, it looks like smooth sailing in much more moderate Ohio.
So naturally, Republican lawmakers are throwing sand in the gears.
They’ve introduced a ballot initiative that would change the threshold for a voter-passed constitutional amendment from a simple majority (basic democracy) to 60% (the freaking filibuster). And rather than place that change before voters at the same time as the reproductive rights amendment, which would save money, be logical, and almost surely guarantee its defeat, the Ohio GOP apparatus decided to run a separate special election. On August 8th. Despite the fact that they had outlawed August special elections because they’re so easy to manipulate. Smack dab in the middle of the sleepiest and most sedate month on the electoral calendar, rather than focus on barbecues, baseball, and lakeside escapes, the residents of Ohio are going to have to determine whether their direct power over state government is going to be diluted.
This is no small matter, either. Abortion rights are majoritarian, easily, but there are few places where they’ve been put up for a vote and won by the margins the new ballot process would require. Worse, should the new rules pass, they could provide grounds to dismiss or restart the pro-choice amendment process, as it would demand a larger number of signatures from a wider array of counties than the current law. This single, potentially low-engagement election could permanently strip rights from the entire population to ensure the second-class citizenship of the half that can give birth.
Ohio Republicans have tried pitching this as a way to prevent constant tampering with the sacred constitution, but the current threshold has been working for well over a century without issue. If passed, the change would also give 40% of voters a veto on the majority, which we can see working super great right now in the deadlocked and decrepit US Senate. Besides, the Secretary of State who supports this boondoggle explicitly said it was about preventing abortion rights, so they’re not fooling anyone really; just changing the rules to a game they can’t win fairly.
So while it is an unreasonably hot summer and we’d all rather be doing something else, it’s time to shine a spotlight on Ohio for the next week or so. It’s essential that the reasonable people who think major medical decisions should stay between a patient and a doctor turn out with the same enthusiasm as the weirdos who want a Republican legislator rooting around every snatch in the state. Because voting no for Issue 1 in August ensures a win for bodily autonomy in November.