Ohio is the latest state to see a ballot measure codifying abortion rights pass after the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. Voters in the state chose to amend their constitution to establish abortion as a right on Tuesday.
With the fall of Roe, which had found a federal right to abortion, the issue was returned to individual states and their lawmakers. This shifted the dynamic between pro-life advocates and abortion rights groups. Pro-abortion organizations, with support from large left-leaning groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, have turned to ballot measures to try to maintain and expand abortion access amidst the move from federal to state authority.
So far, every abortion-related ballot measure since the overturning of Roe has passed. In 2022, Kansas voters rejected an amendment stating the state constitution does not protect abortion rights. Meanwhile, California, Michigan and Vermont voters chose to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions in the 2022 midterms. Montana voters also rejected a ballot measure that would have established rights for infants born alive after failed abortions. And Kentucky voters declined to pass an amendment similar to Kansas.
Ballot measures can be an effective offensive approach because they are difficult to reverse, changing state constitutions and taking precedence over regular laws.
These efforts have substantial financial backing from national progressive groups, out-of-state organizations, and wealthy individuals. In Ohio for example, one pro-abortion campaign group raised nearly $29 million since September, almost triple the under $10 million raised by opposing pro-life groups.
The well-funded campaigns avoid addressing ethical debates and details about abortion procedures. Instead they characterize the measures as protecting freedom and limiting government overreach. The wording is often broad, leaving details open to interpretation.
In Ohio, supporters of the amendment spent heavily to portray it as upholding freedom and invoked conservative themes like opposition to big government and support for faith and family. Similar messaging worked for abortion rights groups in states like Kansas and Michigan previously. Proponents also warned women they could lose access to miscarriage treatment if abortion is restricted, claims disputed by some pro-life advocates.
With momentum from 2022, abortion rights activists are pushing for ballot measures in numerous states for 2024, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, and South Dakota so far.
In response, pro-life groups say they are re-evaluating their approach going forward, especially with the prospect of many 2024 ballot fights. These organizations now face the challenge of matching their opponents in strategy and funding while maintaining their stance that life begins at conception and deserves full protection.
Different pro-life leaders called for embracing truth about abortion and human life, adapting messaging and outreach to win over the public, and creating support systems for women and children. They contend the fight to change laws and minds will be long-term.
The passing of the Ohio amendment represents the latest example of abortion rights success at the ballot box. But pro-life advocates assert they will continue their efforts to change hearts and minds on the issue in the years to come.