Will new lawsuit stop the abortion rights amendment in Ohio? It depends on who you ask
Groups backing a reproductive rights amendment are gathering signatures to put it on the ballot this fall, as a lawsuit against the state ballot board for the reproductive rights amendment as a single issue waits for a court date.
And with that suit, the state’s high court could hold the power to make a decision that could keep the amendment from going to voters this November.
Curt Hartman, the Cincinnati attorney who filed the lawsuit for two private citizens from southwest Ohio, said he’s asking the state’s highest court to require the Ballot Board to reverse its decision and revisit the issue.
“We believe that it clearly should be separated into abortion or decisions relating to deciding whether to terminate a pregnancy on one hand versus all of these other reproductive decisions,” Hartman said.
Freda Levenson is the legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, which is working with the reproductive rights amendment's backers. She said the lawsuit lacks merit.
‘What it does is it attempts to obstruct our campaign. It’s an attempt by some extremists. They filed a baseless lawsuit. They are desperate to do anything they can to prevent Ohioans from going to the polls and voting on the reproductive freedom amendment,” Levenson said.
Levenson noted the majority of the members on the Ballot Board oppose abortion and would have stopped the petition from moving forward if they could have. And since getting approval from that panel, reproductive rights activists have been circulating those petitions and thousands of Ohioans have already signed them.
Mark Weaver, a conservative strategist and attorney who has worked on Republican causes in the past, said he isn’t convinced the lawsuit is without merit.
“At first glance it appears to be two parts,” Weaver said.
Weaver said he’s taking the length of the petition summary into consideration when making that comment.
“The longer an amendment is that voters have to read through, the more likely it is that it covers more than one topic. And so it’s worth asking the court to look it to decide once and for all so we can have some finality as to whether this is one part or two parts,” Weaver said.
Like most of the members of the Ballot Board, the majority of the justices on the Ohio Supreme Court are Republicans who have gone on record saying they oppose abortion rights. In fact, some have participated in events sponsored by anti-abortion groups.
Jonathan Entin, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, said the high court could decide the ballot board got it right and render a decision that could derail the current amendment.
“If the court agrees with the plaintiffs that the amendment contains more than one subject, then we are back to the drawing board. And the current petition won’t work because it proposes, it is to vote on the whole amendment as a single package,” Entin said.
And while Entin said the court will likely expedite this case, he said the legal process could still take weeks.
“It would probably make it impossible for this proposed constitutional amendment to be on the November ballot because the proponents won’t be able to get enough signatures if they have to go back to the drawing board and re-craft the petitions so they have two or however many different amendments the court decides would be involved," Entin said.
Entin said it would be a long shot and an uphill battle for those who brought this lawsuit to win it because the ballot board, with a Republican majority, voted unanimously that the petition is a single subject.
As it stands right now, backers of the reproductive rights petition must collect nearly 414,000 valid petition signatures by July 5 to get their amendment on the November ballot.