Ohio Supreme Court Rejects State’s Plea to Enforce 6-Week Ban
If the tactics of Ohio Republicans show us anything, it’s that the broad popularity of abortion rights has anti-abortion politicians terrified.An Issue 1 campaign sign outside a polling location in Toledo, Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2023Photo: Getty Images Abortion Ohio
Weeks after Ohio overwhelmingly voted to enshrine a right to abortion in the state Constitution, abortion rights have secured another important win: On Friday, the state Supreme Court dismissed a demand from the state to be able to enforce its six-week ban, which has been blocked by an injunction from a lower court in Hamilton County since September 2022. Explaining their decision to dismiss the state’s appeal, the state Supreme Court justices cited “a change in the law,” apparently referring to the successful abortion rights ballot measure, Issue 1.
When Issue 1 won at the ballot box last month, the state Supreme Court had been considering Ohio’s ongoing appeal against the lower court’s injunction. After the ballot measure passed, the Supreme Court asked both Ohio and abortion clinics (represented by the ACLU of Ohio) to file briefs explaining how the passage of Issue 1 affected the ongoing case. The court’s Friday ruling now moves the case back down to the lower court in Hamilton County—the same court that blocked the ban from taking effect last September—where a judge will decide whether to throw out the ban altogether given last month’s election results.
Several abortion clinics suing to have the ban thrown out cite Ohio Attorney General David Yost’s pledge from December 7 to “acknowledge the will of the people on the issue” pending a judge’s ruling. The clinics also point to the text of the ballot measure itself, which would disqualify the six-week ban: “Ohio would no longer have the ability to limit abortions at any time before a fetus is viable.”
Now that the Supreme Court has dismissed Ohio’s appeal, the Hamilton County Common Pleas court could very well be the last stop of the sprawling, deeply messy saga to get Ohio’s Issue 1 over the finish line. Recall that throughout Ohio abortion rights advocates’ quest to get Issue 1 on the ballot in the first place, anti-abortion leaders in the state relied on rampant disinformation and other barriers to try and stop them. One such barrier was a nakedly fascist special election to attempt to raise the threshold that ballot measures need to pass from 50% to 60% in mid-August. When that didn’t work, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R)—who’s running to be the Republican nominee for Senate in 2024—wrote a summary of Issue 1 (which is what appears on ballots) that underhandedly replaced the word “fetus” with “unborn child.” LaRose also ordered the purge of nearly 27,000 inactive voters in September, mere weeks before the election. Despite all of this, Issue 1 still won 57% of the vote, sending Ohio Republicans scrambling to the state Supreme Court for help that, as of Friday, didn’t come.
Ohio is one of several states to vote directly on reproductive rights since Roe fell, and the latest to decisively vote in their favor. We’ve seen this outcome everywhere, from Kansas and Montana to Michigan and Kentucky. And if the tactics of Ohio Republicans show us anything, it’s that the broad popularity of abortion rights has anti-abortion politicians terrified, left resorting to voter suppression and deceit. In Missouri, state officials recently tried to block a ballot measure by lying that a right to abortion would cost the state “upwards of $12 billion” and the proposed measure would allow abortion until live birth. (Believe it or not, both of these claims are patently false.) In Florida, where a staggering 150,000+ signatures in support of a proposed abortion rights amendment come from Republican voters, Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) is waging her own disinformation war, baselessly claiming the measure could allow abortion after fetal viability. (“Fetal viability,” when the fetus can supposedly survive outside the womb, is not an arbitrary, universal metric—and the proposed measure explicitly states abortion would be available until viability.)
In Ohio, we still have to wait on the lower court’s ruling on the state’s six-week ban. But this latest move by the state Supreme Court indicates what we already know: that ballot measures are a highly effective tool to stop abortion bans. And their success in a state like Ohio, despite everything the state threw at voters, shows these measures can be successful everywhere.