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Ohioans’ attempt to block pro-abortion effort fails

Voters will now decide on an abortion amendment in November

A woman holds up a sign in support of Ohio's proposed constitutional amendment at a rally in Norwood. Associated Press/Photo by Darron Cummings

Ohioans’ attempt to block pro-abortion effort fails

On his drives to the red-brick church building where he pastors in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, pastor Josiah Kagin kept tabs on the campaign yard signs he passes. They called for votes on the only item on Tuesday’s ballot: a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made it harder to amend the state constitution. It would have required campaigns for citizen-initiated amendments to gather signatures from all 88 counties, up from the current requirement of 44, and it would have removed an existing rule allowing campaigns extra time to gather valid signatures if they fell short in their first submission. The amendment would also have increased the percentage of votes needed to pass amendments from a simple majority to 60 percent.

Kagin saw plenty of signs demanding “no” votes. But in his estimation, most supported the amendment: “VOTE YES ON ISSUE 1,” read one sign. “OHIO’S CONSTITUTION IS NOT FOR SALE.”

To Kagin, raising the standards for amending the state constitution was “a no-brainer.” In Ohio, the abortion industry backs another proposed amendment that would add a right to abortion to the state constitution, invalidating pro-life laws. Voters will weigh in on that amendment in November. Kagin saw Tuesday’s vote as a way to protect the constitution from harmful changes to abortion, marijuana, and gun laws.

But with more than half of the votes counted Tuesday night, the “nos” represented almost 60 percent of votes on Issue 1.

With the backing of state pro-life groups, including Ohio Right to Life, Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, and Created Equal, Issue 1 had the support of many Ohio voters like Kagin. They championed Tuesday’s ballot measure as a final stand to prevent the abortion industry from expanding in an otherwise pro-life state. But a small contingent of conservative Christian voters opposed the amendment. They cited concerns about the consequences of raising the vote threshold—including the possibility of maintaining a messy constitutional provision that abortion advocates use to claim the state already guarantees a right to abortion.

Kagin said most Christians he talked to seemed on board with Issue 1’s strategy for keeping amendments like November’s “Ohio Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion” out of the constitution. He thought the result of this election would depend on whether Christian voters show up at the polls. “If they will, this thing will pass,” said Kagin. “If people of faith stay in the pews, hide behind, ‘We don’t get involved in politics,’ … I think that’s where we really will come up against a problem.”

His friend Paul Speros agreed that most people in his circles seemed to see Tuesday’s vote as a way to stop the November amendment. But Speros said one of his conservative friends—a former state representative he volunteered for during her campaigns—surprised him by opposing Issue 1.

Diana Fessler now serves on the Ohio State Board of Education. When she posted on social media that she was a “HARD NO on Issue 1,” some of her Facebook friends wondered if her account had been hacked.

“I knew that my friends would think I was a yes when I knew in my heart I would never vote yes for this,” Fessler told me. She said she opposed Issue 1 primarily because it would require future amendments to gain support from 60 percent of voters in order to pass, making certain measures she sees as necessary “nearly impossible.”

She pointed to existing language in the state constitution that forbids laws against “the purchase or sale of health care or health insurance.” Voters approved the language in the 2011 Health Care Freedom Amendment as a response to Obamacare. But Fessler said it opened the door to a right to abortion. “I wish it wasn’t true,” she said. “But that’s my read.”

According to Rob Walgate, vice president of the Ohio-based American Policy Roundtable, the main problem is that the Health Care Freedom Amendment does not define “health care,” leaving it open to the interpretation of judges. If voters raised the threshold for future amendments to 60 percent, “You’re never going to get that line out,” said Walgate. That’s partially why his organization—a nonpartisan public policy group committed to Biblical values like protecting unborn babies—opposed Issue 1. He also noted that the stricter signature requirements would have made it harder for regular citizens to initiate amendments, guaranteeing that only special interest groups with the time, money, and resources needed to reach enough voters would be able to amend the constitution.

“We believe the 60 percent proposal is extremely short-sighted,” said Walgate. “It’s not looking at the long-term picture of what’s happening.”

Pro-abortion groups in Ohio have already used the Health Care Freedom Amendment’s language to argue the state constitution guarantees a right to abortion. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in 2022 gave states the freedom to protect unborn babies, a federal court lifted an injunction on the state’s 2019 heartbeat law, allowing it to take effect. But pro-abortion groups challenged it in state court, arguing the law violated several provisions of the state constitution, including the Health Care Freedom Amendment. The groups argued that the section’s guarantee of autonomy in “medical decision-making” includes the right to an abortion. An Ohio judge agreed with that interpretation in a September 2022 decision blocking enforcement of the law, saying the amendment and other portions of the constitution together created a “fundamental right to abortion under Ohio’s Constitution.”

Elizabeth Marbach, director of communications for Ohio Right to Life, said the Ohio Supreme Court’s current conservative majority is unlikely to uphold that interpretation of the law. “I have faith that they will rule on the side of life,” she said. Marbach also saw this concern as uncommon among conservative voters: She said she hadn’t heard others citing the constitution’s healthcare language as a reason to oppose Issue 1. But Walgate said he thought there were more conservatives opposing it than there appeared to be. He said he personally received texts and calls from some who said they were voting no. “They’re not going to say it publicly because they don’t want [to be] bullied,” he said.

Back in his Dayton suburb, pastor Josiah Kagin worried that these concerns over Issue 1 would distract from “the actual battle at hand.” He said the reality is that the next amendment coming before voters in November would effectively legalize abortion throughout pregnancy. “This is a winner-take-all scenario,” he said.

His friend Speros pointed to polls indicating that as many as 58 percent of voters supported the abortion amendment. With the Republican leanings of Ohio, Speros said he thinks it should be “a no-brainer” that the November amendment would fail, even without increasing the threshold. But he pointed to a similar pro-abortion amendment that passed in Michigan last November with almost 57 percent of votes. Also last year, pro-life ballot measures failed in Kansas and Kentucky with more than 58 and 52 percent of voters opposing them. “It’s shameful that we’re this close. It shouldn’t be this close,” Speros said.

Editor’s note: WORLD has updated this report since its initial posting.

Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for WORLD News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.


I so appreciate the fly-over picture, and the reminder of God’s faithful sovereignty. —Celina

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