By: The Editorial Board – wsj.com – August 9, 2023
The measure Ohioans rejected, called Issue 1, would have raised the threshold for amending the state’s constitution to 60% of voters. It’s hardly a crazy idea in principle. The founders were wary of direct democracy, and sometimes it runs off the policy rails. Yet Issue 1 was rejected, 57% to 43%.
The context is what’s coming on the ballot this November: an amendment to put abortion rights in the Ohio constitution. That now can pass with a simple majority. “Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” the amendment says. If approved, the state couldn’t unduly “burden” this right. “Abortion may be prohibited after fetal viability,” except if a physician believes it’s necessary “to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health.”
That would be an abortion right more extreme than what prevailed under Roe v. Wade. Ohio has a law generally requiring parental consent for a minor seeking an abortion. Does this “burden” the reproductive rights of an “individual”? Would the “health” exception for late-term abortions be elastic enough to include an assessment of the mother’s mental, financial or familial health? Such complications are an example of why the people delegate lawmaking to elected representatives.
Perhaps debate on these questions will give Ohioans pause, but they echo criticisms that bounced off Michigan’s abortion amendment, which passed 57% to 43% last year. That was months after Kansans decided to keep abortion in their state constitution, 59% to 41%. A similar dynamic in Wisconsin helped Democrats flip a state Supreme Court seat in April, 55% to 44%.
Antiabortion organizations are fooling themselves if they think this won’t continue, or indulge the excuse that they lost in Ohio merely because they were outspent. The latter won’t change. On Tuesday a group called Arizona for Abortion Access filed paperwork for an amendment there. Democrats see this as a route to the policy they want, but they also intend to use abortion referendums to juice turnout in 2024 and help candidates up and down the ballot.
Republicans spent half a century working to overturn Roe, yet they weren’t prepared for the democratic policy debate when that finally happened in Dobbslast year. Now they’re seeing abortion regimes as loose as Roe, or potentially looser, imposed by voters even in conservative states. This political liability will persist until the GOP finds an abortion message that most voters can accept.
One happy camper Wednesday was Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who’s facing a tough re-election campaign in 2024. He has new evidence that he can capitalize on turnout driven by abortion. But note Mr. Brown’s revealing statement Tuesday night that Ohioans had kept democracy “in the hands of voters.”
That’s exactly what Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Dobbs did, empowering voters, when Democrats wanted abortion policy to be set by unelected judges. Mr. Brown won’t admit it, but Justice Alito’s constitutional honesty could help save his Senate seat.
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