In a 3-2 decision, the Ohio Ballot Board rejected using the full amendment proposal text for voters to see, and the approved summary language leaves out protecting contraception, fertility treatment and miscarriage care
In a 3-2 split decision Thursday, the Ohio Ballot Board rejected using the full text of a proposed reproductive rights amendment on the ballot in November, adopting instead summary language written by the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office that was criticized for being incomplete and inaccurate.
The board’s approval of the language – which is now titled Issue 1 for the November general election – was the next step in the process of voters deciding whether or not the Ohio Constitution will include the right to abortion, as well as contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care, and continuing one’s own pregnancy. Those last four items were all left out of the language approved by the ballot board majority.
The summary language does not change what the actual amendment would state in the constitution, but would be the last representation of the amendment voters read before the casting their approval or rejection.
The full text of the amendment will be available at boards of elections during the election, but not in the ballot booths with voters. LaRose said posters with the text will be accessible at voting locations.
In the summary language approved by the board, the medical term “fetus” is changed to “unborn child,” and the amendment’s “decision” language is changed to “medical treatment.”
The leader of the Ohio Ballot Board, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, said the changes were made by “staff” of the board, though Democratic board member and state Rep. Elliot Forhan said “I would assume that the buck stops with the secretary of state.”
LaRose during the meeting also said that, “having worked extensively on drafting this, I do believe it’s fair and accurate.”
LaRose has been vocal in his opposition of the amendment, even saying the effort around the previous Issue 1, which would have changed the threshold to approve a constitutional amendment had it not been roundly defeated, was targeting the abortion rights fight specifically.
At the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, he prefaced the board’s activity by saying the group was not there to “debate the merits” of the amendment or the marijuana ballot initiative also on the table at the meeting.
Board member and state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, however, gave a speech in the middle of the meeting harshly criticizing the amendment and calling it “a bridge too far,” even after multiple comments by LaRose about the neutrality with which the board was supposed to conduct their business.
“This is a dangerous amendment that I’m going to fight tirelessly against,” Gavarone said. “But that’s not why we’re here today.”
Gavarone also claimed, as anti-abortion groups throughout the state do as well, that the amendment is “an assault on parental rights.” Neither the amendment nor the summary approved by the board mention parental rights of any kind.
The senator continued her comments during the board meeting, saying the true nature of the amendment “is hidden behind overly broad language,” despite the fact that the board summary took out pieces of the full text.
The summary passed by the board does not include a list of the rights to “reproductive decisions” spelled out in the ballot measure, including contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, and miscarriage care, all of which would be impacted under the new constitutional amendment.
A clause in the proposed amendment that says “the state shall not, directly or indirectly, burden, penalize, prohibit, interfere with, or discriminate against” the exercise of the amendment by an individual or an assistant of the individual was reduced to “the citizens of the state of Ohio” in the summary.
The phrase “the citizens of the state of Ohio” is also used in the clause summarizing a prohibition of abortion that would only happen if a pregnant patient’s physician finds the pregnancy to be viable.
The phrase “pregnant patient” in the ballot measure was changed to “pregnant woman” in the summary.
State Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson, the other Democratic member of the ballot board, made two motions to change the language of the summary to bring back the full text or certain clauses of the actual amendment text into the approved language.
“The full text is clear, it’s concise and it’s direct, which is one of the requirements that’s needed for us to present to voters in the state of Ohio,” Hicks-Hudson said.
Both motions were rejected 3-2, with LaRose, Gavarone and the final board member, Bill Morgan, voting against the motions.
Morgan didn’t speak during the meeting other than to register his votes, and didn’t specifically comment on the amendment discussion or language afterward.
“I think it’s what we were supposed to do, what the ballot board does,” Morgan told the OCJ.
Groups for and against the initiative anticipated potential issues with the board’s decision, with pro-abortion rights group Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights requesting that the ballot language mirror the amendment itself, so voters could see the entire constitutional change when they vote in November.
Lauren Blauvelt, a member of the coalition, decried the changes made to the language, and said the group is considering a lawsuit to fight back.
“The entire summary is really propaganda and we are going to talk about all of the reasons why Ohio voters should just be able to see the language for what it is,” Blauvelt said after the board meeting.
Anti-abortion groups argued against using the full text, saying it was unnecessary, and Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis pushed back on calls for a lawsuit against the summary.
“Any litigation filed on this is going to be thrown out by the Ohio Supreme Court because the statutory responsibility of the ballot board is to provide a fair and accurate representation. That’s what the law requires, and that’s what they did today,” Gonidakis said.
Gonidakis said he did not work with anyone on the ballot board on the summary language, but he wished the language was “stronger.”
“Look, at the end of the day, people are going to make up their minds before they go in the ballot box anyways, and they’re not going to go in and then try to figure out what they want to do by reading something on a screen,” he said.
The proposed amendment has gone through a rollercoaster of activity since the Ohio Ballot Board approved the measure in March as compliant with the regulations for a constitutional amendment proposal, allowing a petition campaign that resulted in nearly 500,000 supporting signatures from Ohio voters.
Amid all the necessary hoops through which the abortion rights campaign has jumped, abortion rights groups have also had to battle against lawsuits attempting to block the amendment from voters. Another lawsuit alleged the Ohio Ballot Board hadn’t taken enough time or consideration before certifying that the amendment was compliant.
The Ohio Supreme Court rejected both lawsuits, clearing the way for voters to see the issue in the Nov. 7 general election.