Late Tuesday night, the Ohio Supreme Court handed down its decision on the abortion amendment summary that will appear on ballots this November. The amendment would enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution.
Groups supporting the initiative’s passage had sued when the Republican-dominated Ohio Ballot Board passed, over Democratic objection, a summary that was both longer than the amendment text and peppered with nakedly biased language.
The conservative-majority court came down exactly how Rep. Elliot Forhan (D), a member of the board, predicted to TPM last month: The Court caved where the summary said that “citizens of the state of Ohio” — rather than the state itself — would be prohibited from blocking abortions. It did not see any problem with the anti-abortion gambit to substitute “unborn child” in place of “fetus” throughout the text.
The few liberals left on the state Supreme Court made their displeasure known in their dissents.
“They obfuscated the actual language of the proposed state constitutional amendment by substituting their own language and creating out of whole cloth a veil of deceit and bias in their desire to impose their views on Ohio voters about what they think is the substance of the proposed amendment,” Justice Jennifer Brunner wrote.
“The board’s language is dishonest,” she added. “It is born of board action motivated by privately held and arbitrary views, not constitutional duty. It should be invalidated in its entirety.”
The ballot board will now rewrite the small section of the amendment the majority took issue with — and the groups supporting the amendment will have to surmount this newest obstacle as they fight to keep abortion legal.
This all comes on the heels of a broader language pivot for anti-abortion activists. While the anti-abortion movement has a long history of utilizing graphic, disingenuous and extremely misleading language to trigger voters and bolster its fearmongering around the procedure, Republicans are increasingly embracing new deceptive rhetoric to sidestep specifics on where they stand on abortion post-Roe.
Earlier this month, Republican senators gathered for a private meeting in which they openly discussed the electoral dangers of continuing to use “pro-life” language. Senators who spoke to NBC exited the meeting expressing shock over the fact that voters characterized “pro-lifers” as politicians who oppose abortion in all cases, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
“Pro-life” Republicans have long believed that life begins at conception and have embraced fetal personhood policies, but as they continue to face the electoral unpopularity of the Dobbs ruling, they’re finding a need to shift their messaging.
“Unborn child” is a term long used by the anti-abortion movement to gin up an emotional response among voters. It appears that and the “pro-life” term generally, are being increasingly replaced by references to babies.
After Donald Trump went after Ron DeSantis’ six-week abortion ban in Florida as a “terrible mistake” over the weekend, the governor and 2024 candidate responded by dodging questions about whether he would back a national abortion ban and pivoting to talk of “babies.”
“I think protecting babies with heartbeats is noble and just,” DeSantis said.
At least one Republican who attended that private Senate meeting earlier this month left the discussion with a similar perspective. Per NBC News:
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., summarized Wednesday’s meeting as being focused on “pro-baby policies.”
Asked whether senators were encouraged to use a term other than “pro-life,” Young said his “pro-baby” descriptor “was just a term of my creation to demonstrate my concern for babies.”
The Best Of TPM Today
Here’s what you should read this evening:
New from Kate Riga: Senate Republicans Uphold Ron Johnson’s Spending Bill Blockade