Ohio Supreme Court OK’s Disinformation in Text of Abortion Rights Ballot Measure

Forced birth, surging maternal mortality, and 10-year-old rape victims forced to travel out-of-state for abortion are a pretty tough sell without dishonesty.

Ohio Supreme Court OK’s Disinformation in Text of Abortion Rights Ballot Measure
An Ohio vote to require that ballot measures receive 60% instead of a simple majority was a clear effort to stop an abortion rights measure on the November ballot. Photo:Patrick Orsagos (AP)

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that inflammatory anti-abortion wording and disinformation can remain in the language of a ballot measure to codify the right to abortion in the state constitution in November. Ohio’s six-week abortion ban is paused pending litigation, and the outcome of Issue 1, as it’s known, will have widespread ramifications for abortion access across the Midwest. Ohio voters last month defeated a challenge that would require ballot measures to receive 60% of the vote to take effect (rather than a simple majority)—a clear effort to hinder the abortion rights ballot measure.

After the Republican-controlled state ballot board issued a summary of the measure last month that uses “unborn child” instead of “fetus” or “embryo,” abortion rights activists filed suit. (The text of the would-be amendment itself uses the medically correct language.) The language also says that Issue 1 would “always allow an unborn child to be aborted at any stage of pregnancy, regardless of viability.” That’s not true.

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights sought to change this language to that of the actual amendment proposal, which simply states that Issue 1 would limit the state government’s ability to interfere with people’s right to contraception and reproductive care, including miscarriage care and abortion. The original language also specifies that abortion services would be available until but not past “viability”—which itself is a medically imprecise term referring to when the fetus can theoretically survive outside a pregnant person’s womb. (Politicians typically mean this to be at the 24-week mark; OBGYNs typically disagree.)

The Ohio Supreme Court determined that the state ballot board must reconvene to rewrite the summary, but that the only part that needs to be rewritten is a line that says Issue 1 would “prohibit the citizens of the State of Ohio from directly or indirectly burdening, penalizing, or prohibiting abortion before an unborn child is determined to be viable.” The court ruled that the ballot board must “adopt ballot language that accurately describes that the proposed amendment regulates actions of the ‘State,’” not Ohio citizens. The rest of the summary, the court ruled, “is not defective” and can remain intact.

“This should have been simple, but the Ohio ballot board tried to mislead voters yet again,” Lauren Blauvelt, a spokesperson for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, which organized for Issue 1, told The Guardian. The amendment itself “is clearly and concisely written to protect Ohioans’ right to make our own personal healthcare decisions about contraception, pregnancy and abortion, free from government interference. The actual amendment language communicates that right clearly and without distortion.”

This outcome allows Ohio Republicans to weaponize confusion and stigma about later abortions and is similar to the strategy we’re seeing in Missouri, where the Republican secretary of state published a deliberately heinous summary of a proposed abortion rights measure, lying that it would allow “dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions, from conception to live birth, without requiring a medical license.”

Clearly, these Republicans know the right to abortion is popular and believe the only way to turn people against it is to deceive and fearmonger. They’re also taking advantage of some Democrats’ struggle to talk about viability and later abortion (which is often sought for medical emergencies or cases when abortion access is delayed by restrictions—though the reason someone gets an abortion doesn’t matter). The reality is that any lawmaking that polices pregnancy and abortion at any stage inherently places pregnant people in danger.

Republicans in Kansas, Montana, and Missouri have also tried to obstruct reproductive rights ballot measures with misinformation—and I guess that’s their only tactic left, given how unpopular banning abortion is.

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