The ballot for this coming November 7 may offer another monumental chance for progressive voters in Columbus to take needed action – and this in case, to ensure legal and safe access to abortion. This week the Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights and Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom announced they are joining together to place a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment on November’s 2023 statewide general election ballot.

The jointly drafted amendment will be similar to a constitutional amendment approved by Michigan voters last November.

A distinction between the two is the Ohio Physician for Reproductive Rights is mostly backed by 1,400 doctors and healthcare professionals while Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom is a coalition of statewide reproductive rights and justice organizations such as the ACLU of Ohio, Abortion Fund of Ohio, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, Ohio Women’s Alliance, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio.

Together, and possibly even by next week, they are submitting to Ohio Attorney General David Yost their ballot summary – the first major step in a very complicated, challenging and costly process (just ask The Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity).

If the ballot summary is approved by Yost, then 400,000-plus signatures will be needed to get on November’s ballot. And those signatures must come from at least 44 of the state’s 88 counties, and in each of those counties, the number must be at least 1.5 percent of the vote cast in the last gubernatorial election. Sign up to collect signatures here:

Columbus progressive activist Carolyn Harding – host of WGRN’s GrassRoot Ohio radio show – told the Free Press the two groups needed “to come together to create one unified citizen-led ballot initiative to codify Ohioans’ reproductive rights in the Ohio state Constitution.”

“I am thrilled that the two groups have come together to create one unified citizen-led ballot initiative,” said Harding. “I’ve been clear from the leak of the SCOTUS decision that Ohio needed to codify our reproductive rights in the Ohio Constitution. And knowing our supermajority gerrymandered Statehouse would fight any kind of legislator-initiated amendment – I was also clear this would have to be a statewide citizen-led ballot initiative, like Michigan did so quickly last November.”

Harding added, “I’ve been urging the folks in repro rights advocacy to get this going, and when I discovered Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, I interviewed them on GrassRoot Ohio and I was very impressed by their commitment and their ability to get this going now before the Legislature passes a bill to make it more difficult to get a citizen-led ballot initiative on the ballot.”

Harding is referring to Ohio House Joint Resolution 1 (HJR1), a proposed constitutional amendment that increases the passage thresholds of new amendments to 60% of the vote, up from a simple majority. A similar proposal from the last General Assembly, HJR6, failed to receive enough support in the Ohio legislature and eventually died in lame duck session. HJR1, however, contains more limits to citizen-driven ballot initiatives and creates unnecessary burdens to signature gatherers.  

Certainly this blatant power-grab by special interests and corrupt politicians created the needed urgency for the Ohio Physician for Reproductive Rights and Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom to join forces.

“We are united in purpose and by the belief that placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2023 is both a moral imperative and offers the best prospects for success,” said Dr. Lauren Beene, Executive Director of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, which launched Protect Choice Ohio, its grassroots network. “The lives and health of Ohioans have been at risk since Roe was overturned. That is why we must seize the earliest possible opportunity to ensure that doctors and patients, rather than politicians and the government, are empowered to make decisions about pregnancy, birth control, and abortion.”

“The people of Ohio overwhelmingly support abortion access and keeping the government out of our personal lives,” said Lauren Blauvelt from Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom. “This citizen-led amendment will do just that: through our deep community partnerships and long history of protecting reproductive freedom and providing access to healthcare, this campaign puts the power back in the hands of the people of Ohio, so everyone has the freedom to prevent, continue, or end a pregnancy should they decide.”

The Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights offered the following top-10 for why 2023, and not 2024 (Presidential Election), is thee year to make this happen:

1. Ohioans are facing a medical crisis and delaying even one day longer than is necessary is unconscionable.

2. 2023 provides an opportunity to capitalize on the enthusiasm and activism generated by Dobbs and keep the momentum going.

3. 2023 presents a clear field for the amendment, with less competition for attention, resources, and volunteers.

4. The cost of conducting a campaign in 2023 will be significantly less expensive than in 2024.

5. In 2024, there will be multiple ballot initiatives in multiple states which will make it difficult and more expensive to retain professional signature gathering firms.

6. There is no evidence to support the contention that higher turnout benefits progressive issues in Ohio.

7. In other states where abortion has been on the ballot, there has been a surge vote in support of the measure.

8. The Supreme Court may soon dissolve the Common Pleas Court injunction that has blocked enforcement of the “heartbeat” bill and rule that there is no constitutional right to abortion in the state.

9. The Republican threat to change the rules governing ballot issues has not disappeared; in fact they are working to add additional restrictions and requirements to the legislation.

10. A review of numerous ballot issues in the last 14 years in Ohio demonstrates that there is sufficient time to gather the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot.