The group pushing a constitutional amendment to buttress abortion rights in Ohio sued in the state’s Supreme Court Monday after the state ballot board approved language to appear on the November ballot that the group calls “misleading” and “deceptive.”
“The coalition is asking the court to issue a writ of mandamus directing the Ballot Board to instead adopt the full text of the amendment as the ballot language,” the umbrella group Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights said in a press release.
The ballot board, consisting of three Republicans (two Republican politicians and a third member appointed by House Republicans) and two Democrats, voted along party lines to adopt the summary of the already-approved full amendment on Thursday over the Democrats’ objections. Critically, it is the summary that will appear on the actual ballots; Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), the deciding vote on the board and who opposes the amendment, nonchalantly asserted at Thursday’s meeting that that full text will be available on posters at polling locations.
“The prescribed ballot language — drafted and introduced by Respondent Secretary
of State Frank LaRose and approved by Respondent the Ohio Ballot Board in a 3-to-2 vote — fails to comport with the Ballot Board’s duty to provide ballot language that impartially, accurately, and completely describes the Amendment’s effects,” the group wrote in the suit. “Instead, it is a naked attempt to prejudice voters against the Amendment.”
The Republicans’ summary omits mentions of reproductive health care in connection with miscarriages, fertility treatments and contraception, the suit points out. It also substitutes out the term “fetus” in favor of the anti-abortion “unborn child.”
“The adopted language is longer (by word count) than the Amendment it purports to condense,” the lawsuit said. “All these new and extra words serve one purpose — to distort the actual text and meaning of the Amendment.”
Supporters of the abortion amendment are most hopeful about their chance of winning in court in the instances where the summary seems to have created factual inaccuracies, including stating that “citizens of the state of Ohio” may not prohibit an individual’s right to an abortion versus “the state” in the original text.
“The Ballot Board’s duty is to adopt ballot language that ‘does not mislead, deceive or defraud voters,’” the group said Monday. “The ballot language passed by the Ballot Board and challenged in this lawsuit does not meet that standard. Instead, the Ballot Board’s ballot language misstates the text and effect of the amendment.”
The group may face an uphill climb in challenging the ballot language. The Ohio Supreme Court got much more conservative in 2022, when Republicans swept the three open seats.
“There’s a decent chance they can win, especially with respect to the clear factual misrepresentations,” Ohio Rep. Elliot Forhan (D), a member of the ballot board, told TPM in an interview after the Thursday board vote. “Do I think the Ohio Supreme Court will require the board to change the language with respect to the unborn child and fetus? I don’t know.”
The organizations behind the amendment are connecting Thursday’s language gambit with the election state Republicans scheduled for early August, when they put up their own measure to raise the threshold for citizen-initiated ballot proposals to 60 percent from its current simple majority. Its backers were varyingly candid that it was a naked attempt to thwart the coming abortion proposal, which would enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution.
Voters defeated the measure handily, turning out in usually high numbers for an off-cycle election.
“At every turn, anti-abortion extremists and politicians have demonstrated their willingness to deceive voters, abuse their authority, use political games, and even change laws to prevent Ohioans from having clear, accurate information about Issue 1,” the group said.
Read the lawsuit here: