COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The group behind an abortion rights amendment slated for a November vote is challenging the language that will appear on the ballot, calling it deceptive, inaccurate and an abuse of the ballot board’s power.
Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights filed suit Monday with the Ohio Supreme Court, asking the court to order the Ohio Ballot Board to change the language that will appear on voters’ ballots for Issue 1 in November. If passed, Issue 1 would, among other things, protect the right to abortion up until fetal viability, as determined by a person’s physician.
Last week, instead of placing the full text of the amendment on the ballot, the Ohio Ballot Board opted to use a summary produced by the Secretary of State’s Office. That summary omits key portions of the amendment and is designed to mislead voters on Election Day in violation of the ballot board’s responsibilities, said Lauren Blauvelt, spokesperson for the coalition.
“The Ballot Board’s members adopted politicized, distorted language for the amendment, exploiting their authority in a last ditch effort to deceive and confuse Ohio voters ahead of the November vote on reproductive freedom,” Blauvelt, who also serves as vice president of government affairs and public advocacy for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said in a statement.
The proposed abortion rights amendment provides for the following:
- Every Ohioan has a right to make their own reproductive decisions, including contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage and abortion
- The state cannot burden, penalize, prohibit, interfere with or discriminate against an Ohioan’s decision to exercise their reproductive rights
- Abortion can be prohibited after fetal viability, but it cannot be prohibited if a physician deems the procedure necessary to protect the patient’s life or health
- Fetal viability is defined as the point in a pregnancy when a physician deems the fetus has a “significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus with reasonable measures” and is determined on a case-by-case basis
“Issue 1 was written to protect personal health care decisions, including contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage management and abortion access,” Blauvelt said in an interview with NBC4.
Convened to establish the ballot language for constitutional amendments and statewide issues, ballot board members’ disdain for the amendment was on display during its meeting Aug. 24. Sen. Theresa Gavarone, one of five ballot board members, claimed during the meeting that it was “unequivocally true” that the amendment would enshrine “painful, late-term abortions” in Ohio’s constitution.
“This is a dangerous amendment that I’m going to fight tirelessly to defeat,” Gavarone said. “But that’s not why we’re here today.”
To the dismay of two Democratic lawmakers on the board, the Ohio Ballot Board adopted a summary that, among other things, replaced mentions of “fetus” with “unborn child,” removed gender neutral language and didn’t include the other aspects of reproductive health the amendment would protect, such as fertility treatment and contraception. Blauvelt said the ballot board flouted its responsibility to adopt language that “does not mislead, deceive or defraud voters.”
“The whole summary, from top to bottom, is deceptive” Blauvelt told NBC4, adding that it was written as “anti-choice propaganda.”
In an interview with NBC4, Mike Gonidakis, president of the Ohio Right to Life, defended the ballot language, arguing that the coalition wants to “sanitize” the language that will appear on the ballot. He said he is confident the Ohio Supreme Court will uphold the current language as fair and accurate.
“Everyone knows that this issue is all about abortion, that’s it,” Gonidakis said.
In its filing, Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights asked the Ohio Supreme Court to order the ballot board to reconvene and adopt the full text of the amendment, or otherwise adopt language that “properly and lawfully describes the Amendment, correction the numerous defects in the existing language.”
“The Amendment’s text is direct, clear, and concise — and by definition accurate. The adopted ballot language is anything but,” the coalition’s attorneys wrote in the complaint. “The ultimate question before the Court is accordingly quite simple: whether the people of Ohio can be trusted, on November 7, to read, interpret, and weigh the Amendment’s text (or an accurate summation of it) for themselves, or whether they will instead be subjected to a naked attempt to mislead perpetrated by their own elected officials.”
Early voting for the November election begins Oct. 11.
Read Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights’ lawsuit below.