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Analysis: The group that defeated abortion rights challenges in Kansas and Kentucky is in Ohio

a group of women at the Women's March in D.C. appear to be pushing and shoving each other.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
/
AP
Supporters of abortion rights and an anti-abortion rights demonstrator face off in front of the Supreme Court during the Women's March, which largely focused on abortion rights, in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023.

The two sides of the emotional, intense national debate over abortion are on a collision course in Ohio.

It is an onrushing, unstoppable confrontation that may be decided by Ohio voters as soon as this year's November election.

The battle over abortion rights intensified in Ohio earlier this month when Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom — a coalition of organizations that wants to restore abortion rights for Ohio women — took some giant steps toward putting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would enshrine abortion access in Ohio law.

And they have hired a powerful and effective political consulting firm to run the Ohio campaign — Mission Control Inc., a Washington, D.C. based company.

The hiring of Mission Control Inc. to do campaign strategy sent a signal to Ohio Right to Life and their anti-abortion rights supporters that the proponents mean business.

This is the same firm that, in 2022, worked the campaigns in Kansas and Kentucky where restrictive constitutional amendments proposed by the Republican legislators would have made nearly all abortions illegal in both states.

Kentucky's vote last fall was particularly shocking to the anti-abortion rights movement. No one could have seen that coming, in a deep red state full of evangelical voters.

The coalition, which is headed by the ACLU of Ohio and the Planned Parenthood Advocates association, has drafted ballot language to submit to the Ohio attorney general's office, the beginning of a long process to get an issue on the ballot.

It will require an expensive and time-consuming drive to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Organizers won't say what the language says. That won't be known until it is filed with the attorney general in late February.

And, at some point soon, they are going to have to decide whether they want to do this in Nov. 2023 or wait a year, when there will be a much larger turnout in the 2024 presidential election.

The question is, what would the constitutional amendment include? Complete abortion rights in all cases? Abortion access until a fetus is viable to live outside the womb?

Wording will matter.

But proponents are convinced they can propose a constitutional amendment that most Ohioans can support.

Lauren Blauvelt Copelin, the vice president of government affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, said Ohioans "overwhelmingly support access to abortion and deserve the fundamental right to comprehensive health care."

"We've seen when the American people are given the chance, they vote for their bodies, for their lives and their futures, they vote to protect abortion," Copelin said.

Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said that whatever the abortion rights amendment says, his organization and its allies will be able to defeat it.

"When left with the choice of protecting babies with a beating heart or allowing them to be killed at nine months, Ohioans will overwhelming choose life," Gonidakis said.

But there has been plenty of polling over the years on questions of abortion and, for the most part, those polls have shown that a majority of Ohioans support at least some access to abortion.

In October of last year, Baldwin Wallace University released an Ohio Pulse Poll on Ohioans' views on abortion. The poll surveyed 856 registered voters in Ohio.

It found that 59.1% of those polled would support an amendment to the Ohio constitution establishing access to abortion as a fundamental right. Such an amendment would be supported by 63.4% of women and 54.7% of men.

That 59.1% figure is significant for several reasons.

First of all, 59.1% shows that a clear, indisputable majority of Ohioans support abortion rights.

Secondly, it is a figure that jibes with Ohio polling figures on abortion dating back decades.

But most importantly 59.1% is less than 60%, which is the new standard that some Ohio Republicans want to apply to all constitutional amendments on the statewide ballot.

Not long after the Baldwin Wallace poll was released, Brian Stewart, a Republican state representative from Pickaway County, introduced House Joint Resolution 6 in the lame duck session of the Ohio General Assembly.

HJR6 would require that any constitutional amendment placed on the statewide ballot would have to be approved by 60% of the voters. A simple majority — 50% plus one — would no longer cut it.

Stewart's public shill for this odd mathematical formula was Ohio's chief elections officer, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who touted HJR6 as a way to keep "special interests" from buying their way into the state constitution.

The real purpose was apparent to anyone with a lick of sense — it was a way to make the task of Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom or any other group that wanted to extend abortion rights that much more difficult.

They wanted to move the goal posts back 20 yards when their opponents were in the red zone.

The pushback to HJR6 was nearly universal. About 200 organizations from one end of the political spectrum to the other came out in opposition. The fast-track to put this on the May ballot fizzled out like a wet bottle rocket.

It's highly unlikely to make a comeback. LaRose, Stewart and their cohorts will have to find another way to derail a constitutional amendment for abortion rights.

A 59.1% vote in favor of abortion rights won't do the trick for LaRose and company.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.