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Ohio voters to decide on the right to abortion

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Abortion rights has been on the ballot in seven states since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. In each instance, anti-abortion groups lost. Voters in Ohio are now considering an amendment that could enshrine abortion and other reproductive rights into the state's constitution. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles has the story.

JO INGLES, BYLINE: It's hard to spend much time in Ohio these days without hearing two words.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Extreme or radical.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Radical amendment.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Extreme.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Extreme abortion ban.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Too extreme and radical.

INGLES: Supporters of reproductive rights use those words to describe a six-week ban on abortion that's on hold by courts. Opponents use those words when they talk about the proposed amendment. Ohio was once considered a bellwether state, but after voting for former President Donald Trump twice and consistently electing Republicans to control the legislature and the Ohio Supreme Court, the Buckeye State is solidly red these days. Still, polls consistently show somewhere around 56% of Ohioans support at least some abortion rights. In recent weeks, the Ohio State House has been ground zero for rallies. Supporters say it's a decision that should be made by people, not politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) We won't give up the fight. Abortion is a right.

INGLES: Opponents, including church leaders, say the government does have a role. They've been gathering for protests, prayers and praise.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Singing, inaudible).

INGLES: Tens of millions have been spent on ads for the amendment, including one featuring Beth and Kyle Long, a Columbus couple who went to Pennsylvania for an abortion for a complicated pregnancy. They spoke to NPR shortly after arriving in pouring rain to cast a vote for the amendment during the month of early in-person voting.

KYLE LONG: I think it's important for us to make sure that nobody else here in Ohio has to go through what we went through.

INGLES: Republican governor Mike DeWine and his wife, Fran, appeared in an ad against the amendment.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

MIKE DEWINE: Issue 1 is just not right for Ohio.

FRANCES STRUEWING: Issue 1 just goes too far.

INGLES: Some of the most controversial action being taken is inside the statehouse. In August, Republican lawmakers put a measure before voters that would make it harder to amend Ohio's constitution. It failed. Then the Ohio Ballot Board, controlled by Republicans who oppose abortion rights, approved contentious summary language that voters will see on the ballot. It's led by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who's running in the GOP primary for Senate next year. That language omitted a part about birth control and changed the word fetus to unborn child.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANK LAROSE: I voted 3-2. The motion carries, and the language is approved for...

INGLES: Opponents sued. The Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court, which includes justices who are openly against abortion rights, allowed those changes to stand. Recently, the governor promised voters if they reject this amendment, Republicans would come up with an exception for rape and incest in Ohio's abortion ban that he signed into law in 2019.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEWINE: The vast majority of people in Ohio feel that there needs to be an exception for rape and incest, so that certainly will be part of what together we would all come up with if this is defeated.

INGLES: But that's a tough sell to supporters of the amendment, like Lauren Blauvelt with Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights.

LAUREN BLAUVELT: The governor and other politicians have had a decade to have a conversation about what would be reasonable.

INGLES: The former chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, David Pepper, says DeWine's promise shows his desperation but might be having an impact.

DAVID PEPPER: I do think it's closer overall because I think there's been a lot of disinformation. A lot of this talk about - that you hear from the governor and others about it being too much - I think that's actually having some impact.

INGLES: Legislative leaders say regardless of what happens on Tuesday, they'll likely take some other actions to change Ohio's abortion policy in the future, including the possibility of another constitutional amendment. For NPR News, I'm Jo Ingles in Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jo Ingles (Ohio Public Radio)
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