Ohio votes against Issue 1 in special election. Here’s what that could mean for abortion rights.

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Washington — Ohio voters on Tuesday definitively rejected a closely watched proposal known as Issue 1 that would’ve made it more difficult to amend the state constitution, delivering a crucial victory to pro-abortion rights supporters ahead of a November vote on enshrining reproductive rights in the Ohio Constitution.

The Associated Press projects the proposed constitutional amendment failed to garner the majority support it needed to pass. With a little under half of precincts reporting, the measure was failing by a margin of 57% to 42% two after polls had closed.

Issue 1 would have raised the threshold for approving future changes to the state constitution through the ballot box from a simple majority — 50%, plus one vote — to 60%.

“By rejecting Issue 1, Ohioans rejected special interests and demanded that democracy remain where it belongs — in the hands of voters, not the rich and powerful,” Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio posted on social media. 

The outcome of Tuesday’s special election maintains the lower bar that has been in place since 1912 and could pave the way for approval of the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that seeks to protect abortion rights. A July poll from the USA Today Network and Suffolk University found 58% of Ohio voters support the effort to enshrine abortion access in the state’s founding document.

Issue 1 was the only matter on the ballot in Tuesday’s special election. 

While the amendment would have affected all future efforts to change the Ohio Constitution, the impact on the abortion rights ballot measure in particular sparked a flood of interest.

Nearly 700,000 Ohioans voted early, either in-person or by mail, surpassing the amount of early votes cast in the May 2022 primary election.

Ohio Republican lawmakers began their push to raise the bar for approving proposed amendments this spring, after the pro-abortion rights position won in all six states where the issue was directly put to voters in the 2022 midterm cycle. As a joint resolution to set the Aug. 8 special election moved through the state legislature, eventually passing in May, reproductive rights advocates were collecting the signatures needed to land the abortion access measure on the fall general election ballot. 

A volunteer helps voters cast their ballots during a special election for Issue 1 in Columbus, Ohio, on Aug. 8, 2023.

ADAM CAIRNS/USA TODAY NETWORK


GOP state lawmakers have touted the 60%-majority threshold as crucial for protecting the Ohio Constitution from well-funded, out-of-state interests that seek to “enshrine their social preferences and corporate motives” in the document.

But Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, an ardent supporter of Issue 1 who is running for the U.S. Senate, linked the amendment to the abortion rights ballot measure in May.

“This is 100% about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution. The left wants to jam it in there this coming November,” LaRose, a Republican, said during a Lincoln Day event in Seneca County.

Abortion rights in Ohio

In Ohio, a ban on abortions after embryonic cardiac activity is detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy, went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. But a state court blocked the six-week law, and legal proceedings are continuing.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which has qualified for the November ballot, would protect the right of individuals to make their own reproductive decisions, including on contraception and abortion. It would forbid the state from prohibiting or interfering with the “voluntary exercise of this right.”

The amendment would allow the state to prohibit abortion after fetal viability, which it defines as “the point in a pregnancy when, in the professional judgment of the pregnant patient’s treating physician, the fetus has a significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus with reasonable measures.”

Ohio’s Issue 1 not only sought to raise the threshold for passing state constitutional amendments, but would have elevated the standard to place a citizen-initiated amendment on the ballot. The amendment required that any petition filed after Jan. 1 be signed by at least 5% of the electors of each of Ohio’s 88 counties, based on the total number of votes cast in the last governor’s race.

Ohio is the only state this year where voters weighed changes to the rules governing proposed constitutional amendments — and where the issue of abortion rights will directly appear on the ballot. But other states have mounted similar efforts, albeit unsuccessfully.

In Arkansas and South Dakota, legislative measures that would’ve imposed the supermajority threshold for the adoption of constitutional amendments both failed. Republicans in Missouri’s legislature attempted earlier this year to replace its simple majority bar with a 57% marker, but failed to send the issue to voters for the final word.

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