COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Abortion rights advocates announced Monday two initiatives to place a constitutional amendment enshrining abortion in front of Ohio voters, the same day a proposal to make it more challenging to amend the state constitution cleared a legislative committee.

The two coalitions, Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Protect Choice Ohio, are both eyeing a future election for a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment — in either November 2023 or later, according to news releases from each.

Debate over timing

Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom is a coalition of eight organizations, including the ACLU of Ohio, Abortion Fund Ohio, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, Ohio Women’s Alliance, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, Preterm-Cleveland, Pro-Choice Ohio, and Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity.

Jaime Miracle, the deputy director of Pro-Choice Ohio, said she sees the effort at a ballot initiative as an extension of the work many within the coalition are already doing to enable women to access abortions.

“We have been working together for, in some cases, decades,” Miracle said. “This work started even before we heard about the Dobbs decision in June. This is not an undertaking that can be taken lightly in Ohio.”

The campaign did not outline a timeline Monday, although it said it is “prepared to launch the effort as early as November 2023,” according to the news release. 

Protect Choice Ohio — led by a collective of doctors called Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights — said it intends to place language on the November 2023 ballot asking voters whether to codify abortion as a right in the state. 

The physician’s organization first came together after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned landmark Roe v. Wade in its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022, President Marcela Azevedo said in an interview.

The critical care doctor said that although her organization has met with member organizations of the Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom coalition and that both coalitions’ values heavily align, they disagree on when to tackle it. 

“We do have a difference here, in that we feel strongly that this can only go in 2023, and it has to go in 2023,” Azevedo said, adding that she wants to continue to work with them on public policy that would protect abortion rights. 

Miracle, however, said some of their decision-making hinges on the resolution making its way through the legislature that would alter the percentage of votes these amendments will need for passage. “Getting on the ballot is a process, getting through this entire system, it takes a lot of work,” she said.

Higher constitutional hurdle

HJR 6 — a Republican-led proposal by Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) boasting a broad and lengthy list of opponents — cleared the Ohio House Government Oversight committee Monday, along party lines.

It would require 60% of the vote for constitutional amendments to pass, whereas under current law, 50% or more of voters ratify a constitutional amendment.

Stewart testified in a hearing, and LaRose has contended, that the resolution is an effort to protect the Ohio constitution from out-of-state interest groups who seek “to achieve their own ends.”

But both coalitions said they believe the proposal was introduced to stymie efforts at a future abortion ballot initiative.

“For us, really, what that means is that abortion is on the ballot twice in Ohio. Make no mistake, the goal of the secretary of state here is to limit abortion rights,” Azevedo said.

Protect Choice Ohio aims to submit language for its ballot initiative by February, Azevedo said. Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom will launch its campaign website in the coming days, according to the press release.

But if HJR 6 passes before the end of the legislature’s December session, each coalition will be campaigning against that ratification when it appears in front of voters as its own ballot initiative.

Anti-abortion organization to organize

Whenever the latter ballot initiative does come — and from whichever abortion rights coalition — Mike Gonidakis, the president of the Ohio chapter of Right to Life, said it would organize heavily against it.

“We will lead and orchestrate the largest grassroots initiative, mark my words, in Ohio’s history to defeat whatever it is they put on the ballot,” Gonidakis said.

Although voters in the five states, which include Michigan and Kentucky, with abortion ballot measures in November voted in favor of abortion rights and against bans on it, he said he believes the state is different. Gonidakis said he believes Ohio lawmakers will also continue to pursue anti-abortion pieces of legislation next session.

Ohio has a six-week abortion ban on the books, but that is currently halted indefinitely.