Washington — On the heels of Ohio voters’ rejection of a proposal to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution, organizations on both sides of the abortion rights debate are girding for their next fight over a ballot measure that, if approved, will enshrine abortion access in Ohio’s founding document.

Known as the “Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety,” prospects for the proposed amendment received a boost from the results of Tuesday’s special election in Ohio, where voters weighed in on one issue: whether to raise the threshold for approving constitutional amendments from a simple majority, 50% plus one voter, to a supermajority, or 60%.

The measure, called Issue 1, failed to garner the majority support it needed to pass, keeping in place the century-old rules for changing the Ohio Constitution at the ballot box.

Election 2023 Ohio
People celebrated the defeat of Issue 1 during a watch party Tuesday, Aug. 8, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio voters resoundingly rejected a Republican-backed measure that would have made it more difficult to pass abortion protections.

Jay LaPrete / AP


The outcome of the contest means that for abortion rights to be protected in the state constitution, the proposed amendment on the ballot in November will need to secure the backing from a simple majority of Ohio voters who go to the polls in the general election.

“The 111-year-old process tried and true in Ohio will continue to be the process for this core issue that opponents of abortion have said they wanted returned to the states, and now this decision is going to be made by the state of Ohio and the voters of Ohio come November,” Kelly Hall, executive director of The Fairness Project, told CBS News. “It’s absolutely appropriate that it’s decided by the majority of Ohians and Ohioans are not beholden to the views of a 40% minority.”

The reproductive rights proposal qualified for the November ballot last month, with Secretary of State Frank LaRose announcing enough valid signatures had been submitted to put the issue of abortion access directly to voters.

The proposed amendment, the final language of which will be drafted by the Ohio Ballot Board, provides that every individual has the right to make their own reproductive decisions, including on contraception and abortion. The measure also prohibits the state from interfering with that right, but allows abortion to be prohibited after fetal viability, generally around 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

Ohio law currently bars abortion after 22 weeks, though the state has on the books a ban on the procedure after embryonic cardiac activity is detected, generally around six weeks gestation and often before a woman knows she is pregnant, which went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The six-week law, though, was blocked by a state court while a legal challenge moves forward.

A July poll from USA Today and Suffolk University found that 58% of likely voters back the abortion rights amendment, a measure of support that, if unchanged, indicates the measure will pass in November.

In anticipation of the fall vote, and buoyed by the defeat of Issue 1, pro-abortion rights advocates reiterated they are now turning their focus to the November election and safeguarding abortion access. 

“Ohioans still have a voice and an opportunity this November to ensure families have the freedom to make decisions that are best for them, free from government meddling and interference,” said Rhiannon Carnes, spokeswoman for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, the coalition behind the reproductive rights amendment. 

NARAL Pro-Choice America, a pro-reproductive rights group, will be supporting Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights in the run-up to the November election, including by mobilizing 137,000 members in Ohio, Ryan Stitzlein, the group’s vice president of political and government relations, said.

“Yesterday, a stark majority of voters sent a clear message of support for reproductive freedom,” Stitzlein said in a statement to CBS News. “If I were an anti-abortion extremist in Ohio, I’d be quaking in my boots.”

An attendee uses a sign to shield the sun during a rally on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023, in Norwood, Ohio.
A woman attending a rally in favor of elevating the threshold to amend Ohio’s constitution on Sunday, Aug. 6, in Norwood.

Darron Cummings / AP


Key to the campaign in support of the abortion rights measure will be ensuring Ohio voters understand the stakes of the ballot measure, as well as the logistics surrounding the November election, such as how to vote, where to vote and when to vote, Hall, of The Fairness Project, said.

“Both sides of Issue 1 did try to connect the dots for voters between Issue 1 and the abortion rights issue,” she said. “Voters resoundingly rejected Issue 1 and that’s a good sign in the right direction for the supporters of Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights.”

The Fairness Project, a progressive group that helps organize and support ballot measures, will be lending support financially and with manpower, Hall said.

Anti-abortion rights organizations are also mounting their own efforts, but with the goal of beating the proposed amendment in November.

Pro Women Ohio, an organization that opposes abortion rights, launched a $5 million statewide television ad campaign in March opposing the proposed amendment and has had canvassers going door-to-door since May speaking with voters.

Amy Natoce, spokeswoman for the group, said those efforts will continue across Ohio, including with ads on television, radio, online and through the mail. The group plans on spending at least $25 million on the campaign to defeat the proposal and “still has a long road ahead,” she said.

“We’ve already been working toward November for months,” Natoce told CBS News. “Issue 1 was a step and we’re going to continue outreach of educating voters so they know it’s not about abortion. It goes after parental rights and removing protections for unborn and women.”

Created Equal, an anti-abortion rights group, plans to run TV ads and fly aerial billboards over public venues and major cities urging voters to oppose the abortion access measure, as well as double displays on college and university campuses.

“Defeating the abortion amendment in November will establish an anti-abortion beachhead in Ohio from which we can defeat similar pro-abortion measures in other states in 2024. Because as Ohio goes so goes the nation,” Mark Harrington, Created Equal’s president, said in a statement. “The stakes couldn’t be any higher.”

If voters agree to amend the state constitution to protect abortion access in the fall, Ohio would join a string of other states where the pro-abortion rights position succeeded when the issue was put directly to the electorate.

During the 2022 midterm elections, voters in three states approved measures to amend their respective state constitutions to include the right to reproductive freedom: California, Michigan and Vermont. In three other states, Kansas, Kentucky and Montana, ballot measures limiting abortion access were defeated. 

The outcome of the elections spurred efforts to pursue ballot initiatives enshrining reproductive rights into more state constitutions in 2024.

While Ohio is the only state where abortion access will be decided this year, a coalition of organizations announced Tuesday it filed a proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to abortion in the Arizona constitution. Among the groups supporting the initiative is the ACLU of Arizona, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona and NARAL Arizona. State law currently bans abortion after 15 weeks.