Abortion rights advocates on Tuesday won a critical victory in Ohio, beating back a measure that would have made their push to enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution more difficult.
CNN projected that voters in the state rejected a proposal known as Issue 1. Placed on the ballot during what’s ordinarily a sleepy August by Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature, at the urging of Secretary of State and GOP Senate hopeful Frank LaRose, the proposal would have raised the threshold to pass constitutional amendments from a simple majority to a 60% vote. It was widely seen as a proxy battle over the proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights that will be on Ohio’s ballots in November.
That effort backfired spectacularly on Tuesday, demonstrating that – even in red states – Republicans are at odds with the electorate on the issue of abortion rights.
Their victory on Issue 1 is certain to energize supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment as the state begins what’s likely to be an expensive and acrimonious three-month sprint to the November vote.
Here are four takeaways from Ohio’s election:
Abortion remains a major driving force
Ohio’s August election would ordinarily have been a sleepy, low-turnout affair. In fact, the Republican-led state government had just enacted a law that effectively ended August special elections there. Then they backtracked and scheduled Tuesday’s contest.
Mail-in and early voting for this election had already surpassed 2022 primary voting before Election Day even began. And strong turnout across the state on Tuesday had sent the overall turnout far beyond typical August elections, toward gubernatorial election territory with many more votes to count.
The results underscore the new political reality, one that’s been repeatedly demonstrated in both blue and red states: Since the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last year, abortion rights are a major, driving force. GOP efforts to deliver long-promised abortion bans to the conservative base are triggering the sort of electoral backlash the party was able to escape while Roe v. Wade was in force.
Last summer, deep-red Kansas kicked off a wave of victories for abortion rights advocates and setbacks for the anti-abortion movement that had just celebrated the moment it sought for nearly five decades. Since then, voters in Kentucky and Montana have also rejected anti-abortion measures in statewide votes (though abortion remains banned in Kentucky). And the electorates in Michigan, California and Vermont have approved constitutional amendments protecting abortion rights.
Perhaps the most politically revealing battles have come in swing states. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made her support for that measure the centerpiece of her reelection bid in the crucial swing state in last year’s midterms. And this spring in Wisconsin, the progressive candidate won a state Supreme Court race after she centered her campaign on abortion rights – and is now the swing vote on a court that will likely decide the future of the state’s 1849 abortion ban.
What’s at stake in Ohio in November
The November vote on the proposed constitutional amendment will decide the future of abortion rights in Ohio – the state from where a 10-year-old rape victim traveled to Indiana for an abortion last year, days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
If it is approved, the amendment would trump Ohio’s 2019 law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy without exceptions for rape or incest. It is currently the subject of a court battle.
As goes Ohio, so goes the nation?
Ohio was once the most important presidential bellwether state on the map. In recent elections, it has shifted right – with former President Donald Trump carrying the Buckeye State twice and Republicans controlling the state government.
Tuesday’s outcome demonstrated that despite the state’s rightward drift, Republicans’ opposition to abortion rights continues to hamstring the party – and legislative pushes such as Issue 1 could shift the focus of elections in key states onto politically problematic ground for the GOP.
A CNN poll conducted by SSRS released Tuesday showed that Americans’ discontent with the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade remains as potent as it was a year ago, with a record-high share of the public saying that they’re likely to take a candidate’s position on abortion into consideration when voting.
A 64% majority of US adults say they disapprove of last year’s Supreme Court ruling that women do not have a constitutional right to an abortion, with half strongly disapproving – an assessment that’s almost entirely unchanged from CNN’s poll last July in the immediate wake of the decision.
The new poll suggests that the issue’s importance as an electoral litmus test hasn’t diminished. In May 2022, immediately after the leaked draft of the Dobbs decision, 26% of Americans said they would only vote for a candidate who shared their views on abortion. In the latest poll, that number stands at 29%. Another 55% say they’d consider a candidate’s position on abortion as one of many important factors, for a combined total of 84% who say they’re likely to pay attention to candidate’s position on abortion when voting. Just 16% say they don’t see abortion as a major issue, a record low in CNN polling dating back to 1996.
What’s it mean for Ohio’s 2024 Senate race?
Beyond the November referendum – which will dominate political headlines in Ohio and nationally in the coming months – a key question is whether the battle over abortion rights will carry over into Ohio’s 2024 Senate race.
The incumbent, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, is one of the top Republican targets as they seek to retake the Senate majority.
LaRose, who was the most vocal advocate for Issue 1, is among the GOP contenders seeking to take Brown on – something Democrats would be sure to make a focal point of their attacks on the secretary of state should he win the GOP nomination.
However, the November vote could settle the issue of abortion rights in Ohio for good, raising questions about how effective those Democratic attacks would be a year later.
CNN’s Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed to this report.