The debate surrounding abortion rights in Ohio since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion has highlighted a divide in the commitment to democracy.
As voters in multiple states continue to express their backing for abortion rights, those who oppose them are displaying increasing resistance towards democratic procedures and institutions that they view as being against their cause.
Some Republican politicians and anti-abortion advocates across the nation have reacted to their defeat in elections by disputing the results, refusing to align state laws with changes supported by voters, attempting to limit state courts’ ability to rule on abortion laws, and questioning the legitimacy of citizen-led ballot initiatives.
“I pledge with 25 other Republican legislators to prevent the amendment from overturning Ohio’s current abortion limitations,” Ohio state Representative Jennifer Gross stated on the social media platform X, two days after voters added the right to abortion to the state constitution earlier this month.
A significant majority of voters in Ohio approved the amendment, with approximately 57% in favor and 43% against. In reaction, the legislators released a joint statement declaring, “We will take all necessary measures to avoid our laws being overturned based on perceived intentions.”
Gross and three other Republicans joined together to propose a bill that would restrict Ohio courts from interpreting cases regarding the abortion-rights amendment, also known as Issue 1. This type of legislation has also been seen in six other states as state courts have become the new arena for abortion debates following the Dobbs ruling on June 24, 2022, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
According to Douglas Keith, who serves as senior legal advisor for the Judiciary Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, the topic of abortion has motivated effective measures to restrict the authority of state courts in Montana and Utah. Similar legislation in Alaska and Kansas did not pass. Keith believes that these bills aim to undermine the checks and balances within the government.
Keith stated that trying to remove the power of the courts to interpret Issue 1 appears to be starting a dispute not only with the courts, but also with the voters. This was in regards to the Ohio amendment.
During a town hall event organized by Gross following her announcement to block the abortion-rights amendment, tension was evident between opposing views. Emily Jackson, a constituent who expressed her support for Issue 1, was in disbelief.
Jackson reminded you that the voice is still present and that you have already communicated with it.
Gross explained to Jackson that she was not deliberately neglecting the voters, but instead was taking into account the concerns of her opponents who believed that Ohio voters had been misled. The campaign received significant funding from sources outside of the state for both parties.
Gross did not respond to requests for further comment via phone or email.
Supporters argue that rigid legislation on abortion is fundamentally undemocratic as a significant number of Americans are against it. Based on AP VoteCast, a comprehensive study of over 94,000 voters, 63% of those who participated in the 2022 midterm elections believed that abortion should be permitted in most or all situations. Additionally, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted a year after the Supreme Court’s ruling revealed that approximately two-thirds of the American population believed that abortion should generally be legal.
In every state where the legality of abortion has been voted on since the Roe v. Wade decision, voters have either shown support for maintaining abortion rights or rejected efforts to diminish them.
This has caused certain Republicans who are in favor of limiting abortion to focus on the ballot initiative process, which allows for direct involvement of voters but is only available in approximately half of the states.
“Fortunately, the majority of states in this nation do not permit placing all matters on the ballot as pure democracies are not an effective form of government,” stated Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania and former presidential candidate. He made these remarks while discussing the election results in Ohio on the conservative website NewsMax.
A different Republican official, Brandon Prichard, who serves as a state Representative in North Dakota, shared his thoughts on X (formerly known as Twitter), urging fellow Republicans to challenge the results of Ohio’s election.
He stated that it would take bravery to disregard the election outcome and prevent the killing of infants in Ohio.
Certain political analysts view a greater threat in these feelings.
According to Sophia Jordán Wallace, a professor of political science at the University of Washington, there has been a rise in undemocratic efforts that are becoming more frequent and explicit. These actions pose a significant threat to American institutions and could harm the public’s trust in them in the long run.
She stated that it is extremely challenging to reverse the damage.
According to Myrna Perez, associate professor at Ohio University, for many who oppose abortion, it is a deeply held belief that takes precedence over the preservation of democratic principles.
She stated that things are constantly changing, therefore you are attempting to find a solution to manipulate the system and achieve your desired outcomes.
Andrew Whitehead, a sociology professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, stated that Christian nationalists, who are closely connected to the anti-abortion movement, have a track record of seeing the ability to participate in essential democratic processes, like voting, not as a granted right but as a selective privilege reserved for those who share their convictions.
According to Whitehead, if a group believes their vision for America is divinely ordained, they may disregard democratic principles when enforcing it.
Lawmakers and advocates who are against abortion have already responded in several states where voters generally supported abortion rights.
Last autumn in Montana, voters declined a legislative proposal that aimed to make it illegal for doctors or nurses to not provide necessary medical treatment to a newborn who survived an attempted abortion, usually due to serious health issues. In response, Republicans enacted a similar law to the one that was rejected.
The Republican party in Kentucky decided to maintain a ban on abortion throughout all stages of pregnancy, despite the defeat of a proposal that would have removed constitutional protections for the procedure.
In the state of Ohio, several prominent members of the Republican party are refusing to entertain undemocratic proposals and are advocating for the rights of voters.
The Republican Governor, Mike DeWine, who strongly opposes Issue 1, stated that in our country, we respect the outcomes of elections. The Republican Attorney General, Dave Yost, shared on Twitter that he thoroughly examined the Ohio Constitution and found no provision that allows for disregarding election results if they do not align with the desires of those in control.
He referenced the document, stating that the people possess all political power by nature.
The Republican leaders in state legislature initially promised that the battle to limit abortion rights would continue even after the voters had made their decision. However, as their party struggles with the conflicting views within the anti-abortion movement, House Speaker Jason Stephens and Senate President Matt Huffman seem to be toning down their stance.
Stephens indicated that he will not move forward with Gross’s legislation to limit courts. Huffman, who is a strong follower of the Catholic faith, retracted his previous remarks about potentially repealing Issue 1 immediately.
Ohio Republicans, including them, went against their own legislation and arranged a special vote in August with the goal of increasing the requirement for approving future constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60%. This was viewed as an effort to weaken the upcoming abortion amendment and was overwhelmingly voted down.
The tensions surrounding abortion initiatives scheduled for state ballots in 2024 are already apparent.
Efforts by those in support of abortion rights to move forward with a statewide ballot measure in Missouri are being hindered by disagreements surrounding the wording on the ballot. Recently, a group of judges deemed the summaries written by Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is also running for governor in the upcoming election, to be biased and deceptive.
Three GOP legislators in Michigan have teamed up with an anti-abortion organization to file a lawsuit challenging a state constitutional amendment that safeguards abortion rights. This amendment was strongly supported by voters last year. Florida’s Republican attorney general is also working to prevent an abortion rights amendment from appearing on the 2024 ballot.
Kara Gross, the legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, expressed her belief that voters in Ohio were able to understand the link between abortion and democracy during a recent special election. She remains optimistic that voters will continue to make this same connection in other locations during the 2024 election.
Private foundations provide support to The Associated Press to improve its explanatory reporting on elections and democracy. Learn more about AP’s democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all of its content.