Ohio votes to protect abortion rights, legalize pot

Ohio voters on Tuesday extended a winning streak for supporters of abortion rights.
Signs for and against a proposed constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights in Ohio stand in front of the Greene County Board of Elections in Xenia, Ohio, Oct. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)

Ohio voters on Tuesday extended a winning streak for supporters of abortion rights, voting in overwhelming margins to add protections for abortion and reproductive rights to the state constitution.

With 57% of the expected vote in, Issue 1, the constitutional amendment to protect those rights, was leading with 56% of the vote. The Associated Press projected the measure would pass.

“Ohioans made clear today that we do not want the government dictating what is the right decision for ourselves and our families. Ohioans — not out-of-state donors — protected their reproductive freedom,” said state Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D).

Republican elected officials uniformly opposed the measure. In a statement Tuesday night, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) said the legislature “has multiple paths that we will explore to continue to protect innocent life. This is not the end of the conversation.”

On the same ballot, voters made Ohio the 24th state in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. The tabulations showed Issue 2 passing with almost 56% of the vote.

“This is a great day for Ohio, which now joins the growing number of conservative-leaning states that have ended the injustice of cannabis prohibition,” said Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which spent millions backing the Ohio measure.

While abortion rights have been a subtext in many races this year, from Kentucky’s gubernatorial election to Virginia’s battle for control of the legislature, Ohio is the only state where voters explicitly decided whether to legalize or ban the procedure.

“The reproductive rights amendment is a shield that will safeguard the reproductive rights of Ohioans, ensuring that their choices are respected, their voices are heard, and their autonomy is protected,” said Marcela Azevedo, a physician and co-founder of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, one of the groups that backed Issue 1.

The results are the seventh consecutive win for abortion rights backers, after earlier measures won passage in California, Michigan and Vermont, and after measures to increase restrictions on abortions failed in conservative Kansas, Montana and Kentucky.

That string of victories makes it likely that abortion rights backers will try to extend the state-by-state fight in 2024. Supporters are beginning the process of winning ballot access in swing presidential states like Arizona and Colorado, and in redder states like Iowa and Missouri.

And abortion rights will surely be at the heart of President Biden’s campaign for re-election against former President Donald Trump, the odds-on favorite to win his third consecutive Republican presidential nomination. Trump nominated three of the U.S. Supreme Court justices who later joined the majority decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case that overturned the precedent set in Roe v. Wade.

Democratic candidates from across the nation have made abortion rights — and the threat of Republican-backed abortion restrictions — a cornerstone of their campaigns ever since the high court handed down the Dobbs ruling. Party strategists credit their focus on abortion rights for picking up a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania and holding down losses in the U.S. House in the 2022 midterm elections.

There is less of a chance that Tuesday’s win for supporters of legalized marijuana will extend into 2024, in part because supporters have effectively won all there is to be won at the ballot box. Of the 26 states that have yet to embrace legal marijuana, only a small handful allow citizens to place measures on a ballot through the initiative process.