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Pro-life-driven Ohio Issue 1 fails in Republican-led state


COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) – Republican-led Ohio rejected an Aug. 8 ballot measure that would have made it more difficult for voters to codify abortion rights in the state constitution.

Issue 1 would have required 60 percent of the vote to amend the state constitution, raising the threshold from the current 50 percent plus one, months ahead of a November ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to guarantee abortion rights.

Voters’ overwhelming rejection of Issue 1 indicates abortion is not as cohesive an issue for Republicans as many assume, said Cedarville University political scientist Mark Caleb Smith, who describes himself as a conservative evangelical Christian. Cedarville is aligned with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.

“The Republican Party is more fractured on the issue of abortion than most people would think,” Smith, director of Cedarville’s Center for Political Studies, told Baptist Press. “I think that the Democratic Party is more strongly pro-choice and relatively not divided over the issue, but I think the Republican Party is a little bit more divided.

“I do think you have some Republicans voted against Issue 1 because of its potential impact on abortion in November.”

Southern Baptist ethicist Miles Mullin said the failure is all the more reason to fight for life.

“Unfortunately, this outcome will make it easier for those supporting the abortion industry to codify abortion as a constitutional right in Ohio, legally devaluing preborn lives as expendable,” Mullin, vice president and chief of staff of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This result underscores the need for the pro-life movement to engage the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens as we seek to protect our preborn neighbors and come alongside expectant mothers with care and support.”

Ohio leaders including the governor, secretary of state and attorney general are Republicans. Both houses of the Legislature have Republican supermajorities, and former President Donald Trump carried the state in 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

Issue 1 didn’t specify a connection to abortion law, but Secretary of State Frank LaRose and others made clear the connection in urging voters to approve the measure. But some Republicans publicly spoke against the measure, including former Republican Govs. Bob Taft, who led the state from 1999-2007, and John Kasich, 2011-2019.

“You had a fair number of Republicans criticizing Issue 1 because they felt like the process had not been fairly carried out by the General Assembly,” Smith said.

Some Republicans didn’t approve Issue 1’s placement on the ballot in a special election, as opposed to a general election, while others said the initiative sought to change the rules in the middle of the game.

With Issue 1’s failure, Ohio is set in November to join six other states since the overturn of Roe v. Wade where votes have had the effect of protecting abortion rights, including California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont.

Ohio currently bans abortion beginning at 22 weeks of pregnancy, according to abortion tracking sites including the Guttmacher Institute.

Republicans would be wise to consider the success of pro-choice initiatives when they are placed before voters, said Smith, who cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from the nationwide data.

Among mitigating factors, a lot of money was spent from out-of-state donors on the Issue 1 vote on both sides of the aisle because of the timing of the vote, and the electorate is very different in non-presidential election years such as 2023.

“Republicans can have some hope that maybe in a different kind of electorate, that they’ll have better opportunities,” Smith said. “But I think they are wise to really start to ask themselves what abortion is going to mean politically for the Republican Party. I think the temptation is going to be for Republicans to minimize it. Even former President Trump has talked about it recently as it being a losing issue for Republicans.”

A measure similar to Issue 1 failed in Arkansas in 2022, twice failed in South Dakota – in 2018 and in 2022 – but passed in Arizona last year, the Washington Post reported.