How Ohioans protected self-governance before establishing abortion rights

How Ohioans protected self-governance before establishing abortion rights

The struggle in Ohio over reproductive rights ultimately ended in a victory for direct democracy. Here's how it unfolded.

Jeff Milchen
A downtown, urban cityscape under a blue sky in Columbus Ohio.
Photo by Oz Seyrek on Unsplash


As citizens seize their power to correct unpopular policies or to overcome politicians’ inaction on pressing issues, they’re battling state legislatures that are showing increasing hostility to democracy.

In Ohio, reproductive rights advocates gathered sufficient signatures to put their amendment on the November ballot early in 2023, but then they had to surmount sabotage attempts before voters could weigh in.

In Ohio, an interfaith coalition worked together to secure the state's reproductive rights.

Read more about how UUs played a role.

Photo by Reed Naliboff on Unsplash.

First came the Issue 1 that would have required supermajorities for initiatives to be on ballots. After that failed, the Ohio Secretary of State named the reproductive rights ballot question Issue 1, which forced organizers who’d produced countless materials urging “No on 1” all summer to neutralize their previous messaging and urge a “yes” vote in November.

Additionally, the Secretary of State helped rewrite the ballot summary authored by proponents and injected anti-choice framing, such as replacing the word “fetus” with “unborn child” and mentioning only “abortion” when the amendment also protects people from government interference in access to contraceptives, fertility treatments, and other health issues.

Even after being crushed at the ballot box, thirty GOP legislators in Ohio refused to accept voters’ will and instead sought to defy the mandate. While the legislators’ attempt failed in that case, lawmakers have refused to fully implement another successful 2023 ballot initiative, Issue 2, which legalized recreational cannabis.

Issue 2 is an initiated amendment, not a constitutional amendment, and that means state lawmakers can repeal or change it.

What Other Citizen-Led Initiatives in Ohio Are under Attack from State Lawmakers?

Ohio democracy advocates, including the groups already mentioned, earned approval from the state in November to advance a 2024 ballot initiative that would give a citizen redistricting commission complete power to create future election districts for state and federal offices.

Ohio is currently among the most severely gerrymandered states in the nation. Ohio’s Supreme Court struck down GOP-drawn voting maps at least five times in 2022, but Trump-appointed federal judges let the unconstitutional gerrymanders stay in effect last year, helping solidify Republicans’ hold on both the state legislature and U.S. Congress.

On November 27, after Governor Mike DeWine appointed a new state supreme court justice earlier in the year, the court reversed course and approved similarly biased maps for 2024.

This leaves citizens’ initiatives as the only hope for achieving fair elections in the foreseeable future.