May 10, 2023 - News

Statehouse faces deadline to preempt abortion rights amendment

Illustration of the Ohio State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The Republican plan to impede an abortion rights amendment faces an important deadline Wednesday, with the future of abortion access in Ohio on the line.

Why it matters: Most Ohioans support enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution, while conservative leaders are fighting to keep access restricted.

  • A state law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy is currently on hold in the midst of a court challenge, making the procedure legal to 22 weeks.

Driving the news: Today is the last day lawmakers can place a ballot question on a potential August special election to raise the passage threshold for future constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60%.

Between the lines: Raising the threshold would make it tougher to pass an amendment planned for the November ballot protecting abortion rights at least up until fetal viability is detected, around 24 weeks.

The latest: Ohio Senators already voted to create the August election and place on it the threshold-raising ballot amendment.

  • Wednesday is the House's last chance to do the same.

The intrigue: Even with a Republican supermajority, that's no sure thing ā€” the House votes have already been delayed amid a torrent of public opposition from activist groups and former state officials.

Meanwhile, abortion rights groups have until July 5 to collect the necessary signatures to add the amendment to the November ballot.

What they're saying: A GOP lawmaker promoting the August special election privately told colleagues it is meant to target a potential abortion rights amendment.

  • In public, however, Republicans argue raising the threshold is necessary to curb the influence of outside special interests.

Yes, but: An Illinois conservative megadonor has invested more than $1 million into convincing lawmakers to back the August effort, the Dispatch reports.

Of note: Holding an August election would be expensive and, history shows, feature much lower turnout than other elections.

  • The Ohio Association of Election Officials estimates the cost of holding it to be $20 million.

State of play: This is supposed to be the first year without one ā€” Republicans voted last December to get rid of them in most cases.

  • Held as most Ohioans are enjoying the last of summer and preparing for school, these elections traditionally involved a tax levy or a race to fill a vacant seat.

By the numbers: Less than 7% of eligible Franklin County voters went to the polls in last year's August election.

  • Several precincts did not even reach 1%.

The bottom line: Republicans need a series of victories to achieve their goal of limiting abortion access in Ohio.

  • Wednesday is a crucial step toward that objective.
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