Gavel,” a sculpture by Andrew F. Scott, outside the Supreme Court of Ohio. Credit: Sam Howzit / Creative Commons.

Meanwhile, Ohio Senate president eyes August for proposal to raise threshold for voters to pass constitutional amendments

BY: SUSAN TEBBEN – Ohio Capital Journal

A new lawsuit claims the Ohio Ballot Board made the wrong call when they approved the validity of a constitutional amendment proposal on abortion.

In the lawsuit, filed this week with the Ohio Supreme Court, Cincinnati attorney Curt Hartman asks the court to demand the ballot board vacate their March 13 decision, in which they said the proposed ballot language to cement abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution attempts to make changes to only one constitutional issue.

The lawsuit also wants the state Ballot Board to “issue a determination that the foregoing initiative petition contains more than one proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution,” divide the petition into separate initiatives and certify those with the Ohio Attorney General.

To prove the separate issues, the lawsuit cites the overturned legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade, in which abortion was described as “inherently different” than other personal rights. Because abortion is “inherently different,” parties in the lawsuit argue it represents a different issue than “one’s own reproductive decisions,” which is part of the ballot initiative, therefore “does not and cannot relate to a single general object or purpose.”

The lawsuit acknowledges in a footnote that supporters of the ballot initiative “have not, to date, provided any explanation of the distinction between a decision concerning ‘continuing one’s own pregnancy’ versus concerning ‘abortion.’

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost saw the initiative before the board, and certified the amendment proposal in a separate process. In his letter confirming that the proposal could then move on to the ballot board, Yost made his own comments on the issue.

“I cannot base my determination on the wisdom or folly of a proposed amendment as a matter of public policy,” Yost wrote in his letter on the amendment proposal.

The lawsuit now sets the state, specifically Yost, up to defend the decision of the ballot board, despite any personal feelings he may have on the initiative itself.

The board made no decisions on the merits of the issue, though state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, made a point to speak out against the issue during the board meeting, saying she was “horrified at the thought of this amendment.”

Hartman is representing Margaret DeBlase and John Giroux, both members of the Cincinnati Right to Life. Giroux spoke during the Ohio Ballot Board meeting.

“If this is about one issue, this amendment is about abortion, and that’s plain and simple,” Giroux told the board. “They want to advance abortion in our state constitution.”

In the lawsuit, Hartman argues there was “absolutely no discussion or debate whatsoever” by the members of the board, other than Gavarone’s comments.

Parties challenging the decision say the ballot board’s action, or lack thereof, “constitutes an abuse of discretion and/or an act in clear disregard of applicable legal provisions.”

The Ohio Supreme Court has not decided whether or not they will accept the lawsuit for review.

Pro-abortion rights groups are facing a July 5 deadline to gather signatures in support of placing the petition on the ballot in November. That deadline might also lie in the shadow of an August special election now, with Senate President Matt Huffman expressing interest in placing a measure on the ballot that month to increase the threshold needed to amend the constitution by changing it to 50% plus one vote to 60%.

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.
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