“Gavel,” a sculpture by Andrew F. Scott, outside the Supreme Court of Ohio. Credit: Sam Howzit/Creative Commons.

BY:  Ohio Capital Journal

In the fight against Ohio Ballot Board language that reproductive rights groups say is deceptive, an attorney has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to order the full text of the proposed amendment to be used on November ballots.

The Ohio Ballot Board approved language last month for voters to see on their ballots that took out specific details of the amendment, such as protections for miscarriage care and contraception.

The language was ostensibly meant to summarize Issue 1, a proposed amendment that would add abortion and reproductive rights into the state constitution, but those who created the proposed amendment say the summary approved by the ballot board in a 3-2 vote misleads voters and adds biased terms like “unborn child” instead of the medically accurate term “fetus.”

In a filing this week, attorney Don McTigue asked the Ohio Supreme Court to send the Ohio Ballot Board back to the drawing board, specifically to “prescribe that the amendment’s full text be used as the ballot language.”

“The Ballot Board’s prescribed language misleads the voters about ‘what they are being asked to vote on’ and engages in improper ‘persuasive argument … against’ the Amendment,” McTigue wrote, citing previous Ohio Supreme Court languages.

The summary language has various defects, according to the abortion rights groups, including misleading voters about “what right the amendment would create,” what restrictions the amendment would create, “whether and to what degree” the proposal would continue a pregnancy, a physician’s discretion regarding fetal viability, and “how the amendment would limit state regulation.”

“Each of these defects violates the constitution and laws of the state of Ohio, and cannot survive under this court’s precedents,” McTigue wrote.

Along with the alleged defects, the brief says the ballot board’s summary changes language enough to alter the meaning of the amendment and give false information to voters.

The summary language states that the amendment would “always allow an unborn child to be aborted at any stage of pregnancy, regardless of viability if, in the treating physician’s determination, the abortion is necessary to protect the pregnant woman’s life or health.”

“To the contrary, if the amendment were adopted, such an abortion would not be allowed insofar as the pregnant patient objected to it,” McTigue wrote. “In that case, the pregnant person would have an individual right to decide to continue [their] own pregnancy.”

He also argued that the majority that voted for the summary language included two people who have been working against the measure. One of which, state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, took time during the board meeting in which the summary language was considered, to call the amendment “dangerous” and commit to campaigning against the measure.

“Gavarone attacked the substance of the amendment itself as ‘an abomination,’ and asserted that the amendment entailed an ‘assault on parental rights,” the court filing noted.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who leads the ballot board, has also been a vocal opponent of the proposed amendment, posting on social media with anti-abortion groups, and working on a failed constitutional amendment to raise the threshold to approve amendments specifically to block the abortion rights measure.

“This context, together with the ballot language’s length and many defects, makes clear that the board majority’s personal opposition to the amendment infected the ballot board’s exercise of authority,” McTigue told the court.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, who represents the ballot board in legal proceedings, denied wrongdoing by the board in response to the lawsuit.

Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.


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