Analysis: Ohio GOP's re-write of abortion rights ballot language is unlikely to make a difference
In the Aug. 8 special election, Frank LaRose, Ohio's Republican secretary of state, was told in no uncertain terms that voters had no use for his plan to raise the bar for passing constitutional amendments to 60%.
Issue 1 failed miserably; and was clearly aimed at making it harder for abortion rights advocates to pass the reproductive rights amendment on the November ballot, which would write access to abortion into the Ohio Constitution.
Ohio voters came out in droves to vote down the 60% rule.
LaRose was left with egg on his face.
But the secretary of state/U.S. Senate candidate wasn't done.
Now, the Republican majority of his five-member Ohio Ballot Board — chaired by LaRose and tasked with the job of approving ballot language — stands accused of trying to stack the deck against the abortion rights amendment by inserting what abortion rights groups call misleading, inaccurate and inflammatory language into what should be a simple statement of fact.
"Issue 1 was clearly written to protect Ohioans' right to make our own personal health care decisions about contraception, pregnancy, and abortion, free from government interference," Lauren Blauvelt, spokeswoman for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights said in a written statement. "The summary that was adopted by the Ballot Board is intentionally misleading and fails to meet the standards required by Ohio law."
Anyone who reads the text of the constitutional amendment will see that it is about far more than abortion.
The amendment says that "every individual has a right to make and carry out one's own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one's own pregnancy, miscarriage care and abortion."
Last week, the three Republicans on the ballot board — led by LaRose — made changes to the ballot language that backers of the amendment say amounts to anti-abortion rights propaganda.
The rewritten ballot language refers to a fetus as an "unborn child" and substitutes "pregnant woman" for "pregnant patient."
It also says that the amendment would allow the right to "one's own reproductive medical treatment." The amendment itself — the language that would appear in the constitution if the issue passes — says people would have the right to "make and carry out one's own reproductive decisions."
Backers of the amendment believe that is a subtle reference to anti-abortion rights groups' oft-stated claim that if the amendment is passed, minors would be able to get sex change operations without parental consent.
You can expect to see that argument over and over again in the TV ads against the amendment.
But that doesn't happen now in Ohio and is unlikely to ever happen, whether this amendment is passed or not, the abortion rights side says.
Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights wants to replace the ballot board's language with the actual text of the amendment itself, which is only about 240 words long.
The abortion rights coalition has even set up a website, ReadTheAmendment.com, where voters can read it for themselves, without the filter of LaRose's ballot board.
It's worth remembering that Ohio's Republican attorney general, Dave Yost, certified the original wording of the ballot measure after the abortion rights coalition submitted the signatures of over 700,000 who saw the language and said they wanted the issue on the ballot.
"You have over 700,000 people who signed petitions and three people on the ballot board get to decide what appears on the ballot," said Mia Lewis, the associate director of Common Cause Ohio. "There's something really wrong with that picture."
At the ballot board meeting last week, where the controversial language was adopted on a 3-2 party line vote, LaRose said the board wasn't there to debate the merits of the issue.
But his fellow Republican board member, State Sen. Theresa Gavarone of Bowling Green, apparently didn't get the memo.
"This is a dangerous amendment that I'm going to fight tirelessly against," Gavarone said.
LaRose defended the ballot board's changes to what will be known as Issue 1 on the November ballot, saying that the constitutional amendment's language will be posted in polling places.
LaRose declined to be interviewed for this column.
"Due to potential litigation, our office is unable to provide further comment on the ballot language for Issue 1," Mary Cianciolo, LaRose's interim press secretary, said in an email Monday afternoon.
And, sure enough, a couple of hours later, Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights filed with the Ohio Supreme Court asking that the court order the ballot board to adopt the full text of Issue 1 as the ballot language or change the ballot language to get rid of what the abortion rights coalition believes are inaccurate statements.
But it is not clear at this point if the Ohio Supreme Court will even hear the case.
The court is made up of four Republicans and three Democrats. At least three of the Republicans are outspoken abortion opponents.
But it may not matter anyway.
Abortion is an issue where most people will have made up their minds long before they fill in an absentee ballot or go to their polling places.
A recent poll on the question of abortion in Ohio by USA Today/Suffolk University showed 58% of Ohioans support abortion rights.
"Clearly, Frank LaRose and his allies are trying to put their thumbs on the scales," Lewis of Common Cause said. "But people will see through this."