Need to preserve abortion rights motivates Ohio and other anti-MAGA voters
Ohio voters line up in August to protect abortion rights and they continue to pose a major impediment to MAGA extremists trying to tighten their grip in Ohio and in other states across the country. | Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP

CLEVELAND – Energized Ohio voters are overcoming voter suppression and a blizzard of lies and turning out in big numbers to enshrine the right to an abortion and bodily autonomy in the state constitution. A majority must approve Issue 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot to add the constitutional amendment.

High early voter turnout is an indicator that the right to an abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe vs. Wade in 2022 and the GOP threat to democratic rights continue to be a galvanizing political force. Virginia voters are also turning out in high numbers, where abortion rights are a central issue in state legislative contests.

Currently, Ohio state law bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother, forcing women to endure pre-Roe vs Wade nightmarish conditions. Ohio also has one of the highest maternal death rates in the country, along with a high infant mortality rate.

Issue 1 amends the state constitution to allow every person to have the legal choice on abortion up to fetal viability at 23 weeks, contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care, and continuing a pregnancy. It would also prohibit the state from interfering or penalizing an individual’s voluntary exercise of this right or anyone or entity that helps utilize it.

During an August special election, Ohio voters smashed a GOP attempt to make it nearly impossible to amend the state constitution, a blatant effort to block the November abortion rights amendment. Voters turned out in record numbers to reject raising the threshold to 60% to amend the constitution.

State referendums and constitutional amendments are the only means Ohio voters have to check the out-of-control extremist Republican Party, which dominates all statewide offices, the state legislature, and the Supreme Court, from entrenching its autocratic rule.

The latest poll indicates 58% of Ohio voters, including many Independents and Republicans, support Issue 1, similar to the margin defeating the GOP scam in the August special election. Support for Issue 1 tracks with a 2022 Public Research Religion Institute poll showed 66% of Ohioans believe abortion should be legal in most cases.

Early voting began on Oct. 11, and votes cast jumped 75% over the same period in 2021. Early vote turnout leads the August special election early vote, with Democratic strongholds voting in big numbers. Turnout is also being stimulated by Issue 2, to legalize recreational marijuana.

Because most Ohio voters support abortion rights, anti-abortion activists are desperately turning to lies and fear to win. Extremist Republicans are frantically filling the airwaves with false claims the amendment will allow abortions anytime during a woman’s pregnancy, that taxpayers will fund abortions, that the state would deny parents from having input in their daughter’s decision, that the amendment covers gender-affirming surgery, and that underaged girls forced into unwanted abortions.

Republicans are telling voters the ballot initiative will “allow the worst atrocities imaginable,” including “the dismemberment of fully conscious children,” in an adopted resolution.

Deliberately confusing voters

Republican election officials have deliberately confused voters by wording the language on the ballot differently than the amendment. “Among key changes were the exclusion of the other reproductive health decisions protected by the amendment – fertility treatments, contraception, pregnancy, and miscarriage care – and the replacement of “fetus” with “unborn child,” says Sarah Szilagy. “The ballot board’s language also described a prohibition against state interference in abortion care as a prohibition against the “citizens of the State of Ohio” from interfering instead.”

Gov. Mike DeWine (R), a prominent anti-abortion advocate, is trying to gaslight voters by promising to relax some restrictions on the current law. But even if that were true, which is highly dubious, such changes would never pass the extremist state legislature.

In addition, Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), a vocal leader of efforts to outlaw abortion, purged 120,000 Ohioans from the voter rolls without public notice, including 27,000 in late September after early voting had already started. LaRose conducted no such purge before the August special election.

The right to an abortion and the broader threat posed by MAGA extremism have been driving voter turnout since the U.S. Supreme Court’s notorious Dobbs decision striking down Roe vs. Wade in 2022. Democrats continue to outperform 2020 benchmarks for turnout, especially in battleground states and where abortion rights are in danger, including with huge victories in the 2022 elections.

Democrats have been overperforming in special elections throughout 2023. Democrat Janet Protasiewicz won a contested Wisconsin Supreme Court race with 58% of the vote in a state almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats were elected mayors in Republican-dominated Colorado Springs and Jacksonville. Ohio voters rejected Republican attempts to block an abortion rights amendment and trash the referendum option. And in New Hampshire, Democrat Hal Rafter won a reliably Republican State House seat with an 18% Democrat overperformance in September.

“Dobbs changed everything,” said pollster Tom Bonier on Hopium Chronicles. “In the 16 months since Dobbs the salience of the issue has only grown” to protect the right to an abortion and the more significant repudiation of GOP MAGA extremism.

“People now have 16 months of lived reality, and it’s worse than we feared, and the GOP has only gotten more extreme,” said Bonier. One indicator of the extremism was the unanimous election of Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La. as Speaker, a rabid Christian white supremacist and Jan. 6 insurrectionist, by the GOP House Caucus.

The issue is playing out in Virginia, where 71% of voters say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, making Virginians more supportive of abortion rights than even residents of California and Illinois. Virginia Democrats are voting early at levels that exceed the 2022 and 2021 elections. In some districts, turnout is as much as 25% higher, and with higher GOP early vote turnout, all signs point to a very competitive election for both legislative chambers.

A victory for Issue 1 also sets the table for the 2024 elections. In addition to the presidential race, Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) is up for re-election. Brown is the only Democrat to win a statewide election in the past ten years in Ohio, and his election is crucial for maintaining a Democrat U.S. Senate majority.

Brown supports Issue 1 while his leading opponents, including LaRose, oppose it, setting up a stark contrast. “I’ve always stood up for women’s reproductive health, I’ve always stood for human rights, and I’ve always stood for the dignity of work and that’s why, frankly, not to sound arrogant, I’ve done well in a state where not many Democrats are winning,” said Brown.

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John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.