As the path towards reproductive freedom continues forward in Ohio, anti-abortion extremists remain committed to creating endless hurdles along the way. On August 24, the Ohio Ballot Board convened to consider and adopt ballot language for the reproductive rights Amendment appearing before voters this November. Rather than choosing language that would provide Ohioans with an all-encompassing summary of the amendment, now known as Issue 1, politicians chose to use language that will deceive and mislead voters. In this blog we are choosing to lead with facts over fear.
What exactly is the Ohio Ballot Board?
The Ohio Ballot Board is a five-member group headed by Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Together, they put forth and certify the ballot language for proposed Constitutional amendments, initiatives, and referenda. Additionally, they oversee voter education and informational efforts regarding proposed ballot initiatives. When our coalition crafted reproductive rights Amendment language that would be added to the Ohio Constitution, we had to receive certification by the Ohio Ballot Board, which occurred on March 13.
Now what is the difference between the Amendment language and the ballot language?
The Amendment language certified in March reflects the actual text that would be added to the Ohio state constitution if Issue 1 were to pass this November. In contrast, the recently certified ballot language is the text that will appear before voters when they cast their vote. The purpose of drafting ballot language is to sufficiently educate and inform voters on what the Amendment would alter, change, or protect if it were to be added to the constitution. For some voters, this ballot language may be their main access to learning about Issue 1, and for all, this language will be the last text they see before they vote.
So why are we concerned about the ballot language?
It is imperative to get one thing straight: The duty of the Ballot Board is to adopt summary language that “does not mislead, deceive or defraud voters,” yet they chose to do the exact opposite. The Ballot Board had any number of options to present a fair and honest summary. It could have simply used the full language of the Amendment itself—which is ten words shorter than the “summary” that the Ballot Board actually concocted. Or it could have certified the summary language that was submitted by Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights (OURR), which had already been approved by the Ohio Attorney General as “fair and truthful.” Again, it did none of those things.
To be more specific, here are key examples of how the Ballot Board-created summary is misleading to voters:
- Issue 1 would provide Ohioans with the freedom to make reproductive healthcare decision. This is not just limited to abortion, but also includes access to contraception, miscarriage care, and fertility care. Yet, the ballot language solely focuses on only ONE of those critical protections, which does not supply voters with sufficient information.
- The Amendment provides for a right “to make and carry out one’s own medical decisions.” The summary words it as a right to “reproductive medical treatment.” That’s misleading because many of the Amendment’s aspects don’t involve medical treatment (e.g. a right to contraception, a right to carry on a pregnancy).
- The Amendment would forbid the “State,” meaning any government entity, from burdening or penalizing reproductive rights. The Ballot Board summary changes the word “State” to “the citizens of the state.” This alteration makes it seem as though non-government individuals are somehow being restricted by the Amendment, which is not the case.
- The summary says the Amendment would “always allow” abortions “at any stage of pregnancy, regardless of viability,” if the treating physician finds it necessary to protect health. Not only is this phrasing confusing and inflammatory, but it also suggests that the physician could override the pregnant patient’s wishes. This is absolutely false.
Ohio voters deserve to have access to clear, concise information that accurately informs them of every item in the Amendment. By omitting key protections, the Ohio Ballot Board is unfairly deceiving voters and not providing a clear picture of theAamendment. Not only that, but the specific wording incorporated only adds further distortion and misinformation. This is unacceptable and purely begs the question – Why are our leaders afraid of accurately informing Ohioans?
On August 28, Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court challenging the Ballot Board-sponsored language for Issue 1. The coalition is specifically asking the court to issue a writ of mandamus directing the Ballot Board to instead adopt the full text of the Amendment as the ballot language. Alternatively, the court may direct the Ballot Board to correct blatant inaccuracies. It is apparent that the Ohio Ballot Board ignored their responsibilities – and Ohio law – in favor of pushing their own anti-abortion extremism, and we are committed to ensuring their shameful actions are rectified.
Ohio voters deserve to see the full Amendment language for Issue 1, which can be found at ReadTheAmendment.com, not only before Election Day, but also directly at the ballot box.
Stay up to date with our fight for reproductive rights at OURR.win.