Voters in Ohio are deciding whether to add abortion rights protections to the state’s constitution today.
The vote comes on the heels of last year’s string of ballot measure wins for abortion rights in six states: California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont. But this is just the start.
Next year, 11 more states could see abortion-related ballot measures, part of a wave of such actions since the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade. The groundwork for these next campaigns has been in motion for months, sometimes years.
In Iowa, for example, efforts to pass a state constitutional amendment declaring no right to abortion began in 2021, although the GOP-led legislature has yet to finish the process. In Colorado, competing initiatives — one to enshrine abortion protections and one to ban abortion — could appear on the same ballot if supporters of both garner enough signatures.
And in Missouri, where I’m based, two groups filed a combined 17 initiative petitions to increase access to abortion. The proposals range from exemptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities and the health of the mother to preventing any restrictions on abortion without a “compelling governmental interest.”
It’s unclear which, if any, of those will make it to the ballot since months of litigation has delayed signature collection and highlighted internecine conflicts on both sides of the issue.
- “In a way, I think this is what the Supreme Court wanted,” said John Matsusaka, executive director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. “They said, ‘The people ought to figure this out.’”
Money has been pouring into the initiatives. In the two months leading up to the vote in Ohio, the campaign to protect abortion rights raised about $29 million, and the opposing campaign raised nearly $10 million, according to the Associated Press.
There’s much more to come. Last month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire Democrat whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, announced his Think Big America organization to help fund abortion rights ballot measures across the country.
The cost of launching a ballot campaign can be a daunting obstacle, said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which has clinics in Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. During last year’s vote in Kansas, for example, the competing campaigns raised more than $11.2 million combined. That may be a factor in the absence of a ballot measure in Oklahoma, despite momentum for one last year.
- “It’s not just: Can you pull together a coalition, educate voters and get them out? But: Can you also raise enough to combat what has been years of misinformation, miseducation, and really shaming and stigmatizing information about abortion?” Wales said.
Six of the 17 proposals in Missouri were filed by Jamie Corley, a former Republican congressional staffer who helms the new 501(c)(4) nonprofit Missouri Women and Family Research Fund. An abortion rights supporter, she’s trying to land on language that appeals to sympathetic Republicans like herself and thus has a chance of prevailing in her largely red state, one of 14 to ban abortion since the Dobbs decision.
“I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous it is to be pregnant in Missouri right now,” Corley said. “There is a real urgency to pass something to change the abortion law.”
That’s for next year. In the meantime, we’ll find out today whether abortion rights supporters can go 7-0 for ballot measures and add Ohio to the states with constitutional protections. A recent poll from Baldwin Wallace University found that 58 percent of likely voters favored passing State Issue 1.
Turnout is expected to be high because the measure is under much debate locally, with competing pro and anti signs dotting yards and road medians. Last week, for example, at a small restaurant on the east side of Cincinnati, my KFF Health News colleague Stephanie Stapleton was on hand when a table of four women heatedly discussed Issue 1, criticizing men in the state legislature who they said were trying to control their bodies.
The restaurant got quiet, and people at the table next to them stared. Some of the women who had been loudly talking apologized in case they had caused offense.
But at the table that had been staring, laughter broke out. One of the young women stood up, took off her jacket and revealed that she was wearing a vintage 1973 T-shirt celebrating Roe v. Wade.
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