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Ohio edges closer to ballot question that would protect abortion rights

Ohio moved closer to becoming the next big test case in the national fight against abortion, after supporters of a measure that would ask voters to enshrine a right to abortion in the US Constitution. State this week said they had filed more than enough signatures to put on the November ballot.

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights said Wednesday it collected about 710,000 signatures in the state’s 88 counties over the past 12 weeks. Under state law, the coalition needed 413,466 to qualify for the ballot. State election officials now have until July 25 to verify signatures.

Abortion rights supporters are turning to campaign action in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year overturning Roe v. Wade, who for 50 years guaranteed the right to abortion in the federal Constitution. They are betting on polls showing public opinion growingly supportive of some abortion rights and opposing bans and tougher laws that conservative states have enacted since the court ruling.

Voters in six states, including conservative states such as Kentucky and Kansas, voted to protect or establish abortion rights in their constitutions in elections last year, and abortion rights advocates abortion in about 10 other states are considering similar plans.

But the November ballot measure isn’t the only one that will have big stakes for the future of abortion in Ohio. Republicans who oppose abortion rights — and who control the state’s General Assembly — have proposed another measure that would make it harder to pass ballot measures.

Republican leaders in the Legislative Assembly placed a measure on the primary ballot in August that would raise the threshold required to pass a ballot measure to 60%, from a simple majority. While August elections are typically low turnout and tend to favor those who sponsor the measures, Kansas Republicans who tried to strike abortion rights from the state Constitution last August failed, with a surprisingly high proportion of Kansas residents turning out to reject it. The August measure in Ohio won’t specifically mention abortion, however, and it’s not clear that abortion rights advocates will be able to energize their supporters as effectively as their counterparts in Kansas l did last year.

An Ohio law passed in 2019 banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — before many women knew they were pregnant — and that law went into effect after Roe’s overturn. A county court judge suspended the ban pending trial, saying the Ohio Constitution provides a “fundamental right to abortion,” in part because it provides protections and equal benefits to women. This leaves abortion legal until 22 weeks of pregnancy.

The ballot measure would amend the Constitution to add “the reproductive right amendment with health and safety protections,” which in many ways resembles the protections established by Roe.

The amendment would establish a right to abortion but allow it to be banned once the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 23 or 24 weeks. This would allow laws limiting abortion before viability as long as those laws used the “least restrictive means to improve the individual’s health in accordance with widely accepted, evidence-based standards of care.”


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