Reproductive rights advocates in Ohio are suing a state board for approving “politicized, deceptive” and incorrect language on a ballot measure asking voters to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.
The lawsuit from Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights accuses the Ohio Ballot Board of “exploiting their authority in an attempt to undermine a measure they oppose.” The lawsuit notes that multiple members of the board, which voted 3-2 to approve the ballot language, have made their opposition to the amendment very public.
The board refused to put the “clear, simple 194-word text of the Amendment” on the ballot and insisted on doing a rewrite, but “the adopted language is longer (by word count) than the Amendment it purports to condense,” the lawsuit states.
The text approved by the board uses language straight from the anti-abortion movement’s playbook. As Ohio state Rep. Elliot Forhan (D), a member of the board who opposed the rewritten language, noted at a hearing, the amendment “uses the medically correct term, ‘fetus,’ but the proposed language substitutes the phrase ... ‘unborn child,’ which reflects a personal viewpoint.”
Medical professionals use the terms “fetus” and “embryo,” as “unborn baby” gives the false impression that the embryo or fetus could survive outside the womb, when in reality that’s not possible until the end stages of a full-term pregnancy. Similar to politicians branding six-week abortion bans as “heartbeat bills,” the “unborn baby” language is designed to prey on people’s emotions and sway them against supporting reproductive rights.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose drafted the language that reproductive rights are now suing to change.
The approved text also leaves out crucial information about the proposed amendment, the lawsuit states.
“The Amendment would protect reproductive decisions, including five express categories of personal reproductive decisions: those to do with contraception, fertility treatment, continuing a pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion,” the plaintiffs wrote. “Yet the ballot language mentions only abortion, obscuring much of the Amendment’s scope.”
The lawsuit asks the court to order the board to reconvene and either adopt the amendment language or language that “properly and lawfully describes the amendment” for the ballot.
The approved text was drafted by the board’s chair, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican who has made his opposition to the amendment very clear. In an interview last week, he referred to it as a “dangerous, anti-parent amendment.” He and the other members of the board are also named in the lawsuit.
But recent polling shows Ohioans support enshrining the rights to abortion and other reproductive options in the state constitution. According to a July poll from the USA Today network and Suffolk University, the proposed amendment has the backing of 58% of likely voters.
That’s enough to pass the amendment when it goes to voters on Nov. 7, as a GOP-led effort to increase the approval threshold for constitutional amendments from 50% to 60% failed earlier this month.
Constitutional amendments protecting reproductive rights have prevailed in other states. Last fall, voters protected abortion access in the five states where it was on the ballot, including red states Kentucky and Montana, along with blue-leaning swing state Michigan.