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Midsummer vote in Ohio could help block abortion in state

Polling place entrance

Rob Crandall | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 08/03/23

Coming out to a special election in the middle of summer is a tough sell, but pro-life advocate sees it as a prelude to a more pertinent vote in the fall.

A voter referendum in the middle of a hot summer normally would not draw many people to the polls, but for people like Michael Gonadakis, the vote is an important prelude to a referendum this November.

Ohio Issue 1 would require at least 60% of voters to pass a constitutional amendment in a plebiscite and require that petitioners collect signatures from at least 5% of voters in every county, according to the Columbus Dispatch

For Gonadakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, the August 8 referendum is about “whether we’re going to protect our constitution or not and keep the outside special interest groups like Planned Parenthood from coming into Ohio and putting abortion on demand up to and through the ninth month of pregnancy in our state constitution.”

In an interview, Gonadakis said the Buckeye State is one of only nine states in the nation that allow for a 50%-plus-one vote to change its constitution. 

“So many groups out there endorse voting yes on Issue 1 – from Ohio Right to Life, Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Farm Bureau,” Gonadakis said. “So it’s not just a pro-life vote; it’s a pro-family, pro-business, pro-Second Amendment vote, and simply put, we want to protect our values. We must protect our constitution with a yes vote.”

But one group that refrained from endorsing the measure is the Catholic Conference of Ohio, the Church’s state lobbying arm. Brian Hickey, executive director of the conference, told Aleteia that the bishops of Ohio decided to remain neutral because “the question itself does not contain moral content and [the bishops] didn’t want to take a position on something that cannot be backed up by our Catholic teaching.”

He said, though, that the conference is aware of “what it would do for the November abortion amendment, so we certainly made a big effort in all of our dioceses to make sure parishioners know of the August election, and we also had a huge effort for nonpartisan voter registration so that parishioners are registered to vote for August.”

Dangerous ballot initiative

According to Gonadakis, the November referendum, called the Ohio Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative, is presented as protecting women’s healthcare. “But when you read the actual language, it eliminates every pro-life law we have in Ohio,” he said. The referendum would “put late term abortion in our constitution – abortion on demand – and it would get rid of parental consent and all parental rights as well.”

Hickey said the Catholic Conference of Ohio and the bishops of Ohio “oppose the proposed amendment for our November election in the strongest possible terms, not only for the sake of preventing countless deaths of pre-born innocent children, but we see the amendment as being more radical than Roe v. Wade and opens the doors to taking away parental rights, to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, and also taking away valuable health and safety measures for women at abortion clinics that are currently open in Ohio.”

Abortion is legal in Ohio up until 22 weeks of pregnancy, but the Republican-led legislature in 2019 passed a bill banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, with exceptions to save the life of the mother or prevent “major impairment” of a bodily function. That law took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court in its Dobbs decision overturned Roev. Wade, but after about two and a half months a county court judge put a hold on it, saying the Ohio Constitution provided a “fundamental right to abortion.”

The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to rule on that case after the November election.

Said Hickey, “I would say that we’re confident the heartbeat law would be upheld when the Supreme Court looks at the evidence for it and that there is no right to abortion in Ohio’s constitution.”

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