Ohio Conservatives, Afraid of Losing Abortion Referendum, Try to Make It About Trans Panic

A referendum would enshrine abortion in the state constitution, but rightwingers are trying to convince voters it would allow unfettered gender-affirming care.

Ohio Conservatives, Afraid of Losing Abortion Referendum, Try to Make It About Trans Panic

Rightwing organizations in Ohio are trying their best to tank the abortion rights constitutional amendment that’s on the ballot in November. Their latest tactic? Link the language of the referendum, which would protect abortion rights, to the conservative boogeyman du jour: demonizing trans people.

The “how” here is a bit confusing, though. There are two upcoming elections in Ohio. In November, citizens will vote on enshrining (or not) abortion rights in the state constitution. Earlier this month, advocates turned in more than 700,000 signatures (more than double the requirement!) to get the amendment on the ballot.

But first, in August, citizens will vote on amending the state constitution amendment process, a ballot initiative called Issue 1. Currently, like most reasonable places, only a majority of voters need to approve a state constitutional amendment. But conservatives want to raise that threshold to 60 percent, which would have the immediate impact of making it harder to add abortion protections to the constitution. It’s the August election where anti-abortion nut jobs and transphobes are united in an attempt to tank the success election of a massively popular social issue.

Protect Women Ohio, a conservative coalition of “concerned family and life leaders, parents, health and medical experts, and faith leaders in Ohio,” are releasing a series of ads telling parents to vote in the August election in order to help sink the November amendment, which by its interpretation, will “allow minors to get sex changes without parental consent.”

In the last four months, the group has launched a number of ads as part of a $5 million ad buy, but it’s only in the past two months that PWO has really leaned into the transphobic angle.

And, like all other anti-trans activists, they’re not telling the full truth. The November amendment that seeks to protect abortion rights at the state level—a winning tactic around the country after the Supreme Court gutted Roe v. Wade—is limited to reproductive healthcare. It reads: “Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.”

Gender-affirming care is not mentioned at all. Jonathan Entin, a professor emeritus at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve School of Law, told NBC News that it’s “a big stretch” to include gender-affirming care in the amendment’s purvey. “Opponents have latched on to the ‘but not limited to’ language to say that this could provide a constitutional right to, among other things, gender-affirming care rights. That’s not a legally persuasive argument,” Entin told NBC News.

While it might not be a “legally persuasive argument,” the attempt to link a popular issue (abortion access) to the latest conservative boogeyman is transparent. The right to abortion is familiar and easy to understand and now, voters have gone through more than a year of horror stories about what happens when you take away that bodily autonomy.

Being anti-abortion means being a political loser. Anti-abortion candidates for federal office, like Herschel Walker and Mehmet Oz, flamed out. Anti-abortion referendums lost last year in ruby-red states like Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana.

And in Ohio, polling found than more than 59 percent of registered voters support protecting abortion. Conservatives appear to finally be reading the room and realizing that sticking to anti-abortion messaging isn’t a winning tactic—but they’re hoping that their ongoing transphobic moral panic might be.

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