ohOhio voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment on Nov. 7, guaranteeing its citizens the right to abortion access, but a group of right-wing Republican lawmakers is already trying to overturn that result.
The referendum, which Ohioans approved with 57% of the vote, established a constitutional right to abortion, overturning laws passed by the Republican-dominated legislature to sharply restrict access. In response, 27 Republican members of the Ohio General Assembly signed a statement The next day he argued that the abortion rights bill “did not mention a single, specific law” and promised to “do everything in his power” to prevent Ohio’s restrictive abortion laws from being challenged.
Four of them went even further and circulated a bill to give the legislature “exclusive authority to implement” the constitutional amendment to the exclusion of the courts, a move that legal experts have denounced as unconstitutional.
“To prevent harm from pro-abortion courts,” the four Republican lawmakers wrote in a statement, “Ohio lawmakers will consider eliminating the judiciary’s jurisdiction over this ambiguous ballot initiative.”
The move is the latest attempt by some state Republicans to use their tight control over the state legislature to push anti-democratic efforts. For years, the legislature has refused to heed a 2015 ballot measure that banned partisan gerrymandering and in August attempted to make it harder for voters to directly influence policy through referendums. The latest measure goes much further and essentially challenges the authority of the courts and the constitution.
The bill, however, has been rejected even by high-ranking Republicans, with House Speaker Jason Stephens calling it a failure and a clear violation of the basic democratic principle of the separation of powers. “This is a Schoolhouse Rock type thing. We need to make sure we have all three branches of government,” he said. told reporters on Tuesday.
Mike DeWine, the Republican governor of Ohio, also expressed doubts about the bill’s prospects. “I don’t think the public should start thinking it’s going to become law,” DeWine saying on Monday.
State Senate Majority Leader Matt Huffman, who openly opposite the amendment on the right to abortion has not yet been pronounced. But he has already proposed another alternative: holding another referendum on abortion access to undo the recent decision. Huffman is term limited and is widely expected will run for a seat in the state House of Representatives. There have been rumors locally that if he wins, Huffman could challenge Stephens for the speakership. Huffman did not respond to a request for comment.
But the fact that the Republican proposal is unlikely to be adopted does not make it irrelevant. Voting rights advocates and political observers see it as simply the latest effort to undermine democracy and entrench right-wing policies, even if they disagree with a majority of Ohio voters.
“The threat of electoral subversion is as powerful as subversion itself, because it erodes trust and makes people question whether or not they want to participate, whether their vote will be counted or not, (and) whether after it is counted, whether will count or not. really be respected,” said Kayla Griffin, Ohio state director of the voting rights group All Voting Is Local.
State Republicans ignored a 2015 referendum banning partisan gerrymandering and drew maps that gave Republicans an advantage in both branches of the legislature (they have a supermajority in each) and an unequal number of seats in Congress.
The conservative state supreme court ruled seven times that the maps violated the constitution, and after each ruling the legislature returned the maps to the court without significantly changing them. The deciding vote on the court retired at the end of 2022, leaving behind a court that will likely side with the GOP and allow them to preserve their supermajorities in the legislature.
Those maps have given them immense power to do whatever they want with state laws, even if they are unpopular with most Ohioans.
“There is a disconnect between what voters want and what the legislature wants,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio. “It just highlights how rigged the state legislature is.”
This summer, Republicans also attempted to weaken the only check voters have on their power by making it dramatically more difficult to pass a constitutional amendment at the state level, specifically targeting the abortion initiative in November. The proposal would have raised the threshold for passing citizen-led ballot measures from a simple majority to 60%. Voters rejected him by a wide margin in August.
Frank LaRose, the Republican secretary of state, who opposed the abortion amendment, then rewrote the ballot text for the November election to include the term “unborn child,” instead of “fetus,” a a move that his opponents criticized for trying to unduly influence voters. .
The latest threats from the right wing of the state Republican Party to suppress implementation of the constitutional amendment are a marked escalation in that effort.
If Republicans in the state legislature were to pass their bill challenging the courts’ authority to interpret the constitution, the issue would almost certainly end up being contested in court.
“It really represents an attempt to interfere with the judiciary,” said Steven Steinglass, dean emeritus of the Cleveland State University College of Law and author of The Ohio State Constitution: A Reference Guide. “It violates Ohio’s separation of powers principles.”
The latest proposal seems like too much even for the state’s top Republicans. But it shows the lengths some elected officials are willing to go to try to impose their views on their state, even when it’s clear that a large majority of Ohioans disagree.
“This is certainly coming from a far-right faction of the Republican caucus. That said, this faction has gained more and more power,” said Ohio House Democratic Minority Leader Allison Russo. “It just speaks to how this organism has become more and more extreme.”