Ohio Voters Reject Right-Wing Issue 1; Battle for Abortion Access Shifts to November

Anti-choice activist Janet Porter (Image from Aug. 9, 2023 World Prayer Network broadcast.)

Ohio Republican leaders, anti-choice religious-right groups, and a right-wing billionaire were all pushing for passage of Issue 1, an Ohio ballot initiative that would make it harder for voters in the future to amend the state Constitution. Voters turned out in large numbers Tuesday and thwarted the scheme. Ohio voters rejected the initiative by a 57-43 margin, leading the New York Times to note “abortion’s potency to reshape elections” in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Putting Issue 1 on the ballot in August was a desperate attempt by anti-abortion forces to prevent Ohio voters, who strongly support legal access to abortion, from amending the state constitution in November to protect that access.  While some public officials had tried to portray the initiative as an effort to “protect” the state constitution, anti-choice leader Janet Porter was among those who stated that Issue 1 was all about keeping the right to choose out of the state constitution.

In the days before the vote, far-right rhetoric intensified. Jennifer Roback Morse, head of the anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ Ruth Institute, said the initiative would give Ohio voters the opportunity to “save their state from the ravages of the Sexual Revolution.” A spokesperson for the Ohio-based Center for Christian Virtue warned that a pro-choice victory in November would “bring out the complete Californication of Ohio.”

On the day of the election, the religious-right Generations Radio called Issue 1 “the vote of the century.”

After the loss, anti-choice groups acknowledged that Issue 1’s defeat was a rejection of the anti-choice movement’s agenda. The Family Research Council’s Ben Johnson admitted that “in Ohio the real issue was abortion.” The anti-choice Lifenews.com bemoaned what it called “a huge victory” to “radical abortion activists.” The anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List complained about the “silence of the establishment and business community.”

FRC Action spokesperson Brent Keilen tried to put a positive spin on the defeat, telling viewers of FRC’s Washington Watch that the outcome of November’s referendum is “still very much up for grabs,” adding, “It’s going to come down to who gets their message out.”

Porter appeared on Wednesday’s World Prayer Network call hosted by New Apostolic Reformation figure Jim Garlow, where she said her message will be, “Say no to the nightmare in November.” She claimed that proponents of the November referendum want to enshrine “abortion until birth” and “the transgender agenda of mutilating children without parental consent” in the state constitution. Porter said she wanted to talk to Garlow offline about getting more pastors involved and urged him to travel to Ohio to help; Garlow made a name for himself in the religious-right movement organizing churches to help pass a ban on marriage equality in California in 2008. “This is the greatest threat that we have faced in this state in the history of Ohio,” Porter said, warning that if pro-choice advocates are successful in Ohio, Florida will be next.

Porter also sent an email to her supporters with a graphic declaring “November’s Coming” and “Goliath Will Lose.”

Perhaps inevitably in the MAGA era, election conspiracy theorists inflated a news story about one precinct’s counting delays into a nonsensical claim of election fraud. Defeated-but-not-admitting-it Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake tweeted, “Looks like they took a page out of the Maricopa County ‘selections’ playbook.”

People For the American Way urged its Ohio members to vote against Issue 1. The coalition that mobilized to defeat Issue 1 will now turn its attention to turning out voters in November to support constitutional protections for access to abortion.