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Ohio Ballot Board Sued Over Ballot Language of Abortion Rights Amendment

Reproductive rights advocates say deceptive language is a last-ditch effort to confuse voters ahead of November.

A woman votes at a booth at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, on November 8, 2022.

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights on Monday sued the Ohio Ballot Board for its “irreparably flawed” summary of Issue 1, a citizen-initiated reproductive freedom amendment to the state constitution that voters are set to consider in November.

The proposed amendment states in part that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception; fertility treatment; continuing one’s own pregnancy; miscarriage care; and abortion.”

The amendment adds that the state of Ohio “shall not, directly or indirectly, burden, penalize, prohibit, interfere with, or discriminate against either: an individual’s voluntary exercise of this right or a person or entity that assists an individual exercising this right,” but “abortion may be prohibited after fetal viability,” unless a doctor determines it is necessary to protect the patient’s life or heath.

The lawsuit alleges that “the prescribed ballot language — drafted and introduced by respondent Secretary of State Frank LaRose and approved by respondent the Ohio Ballot Board in a 3-to-2 vote — fails to comport with the Ballot Board’s duty to provide ballot language that impartially, accurately, and completely describes the amendment’s effects. Instead, it is a naked attempt to prejudice voters against the amendment.”

The complaint details four examples of “deceptive” language, accusing the board of “obscuring much of the amendment’s scope” by only mentioning abortion and pushing “an objective falsehood” by saying that the amendment would restrict “the citizens of the state of Ohio” — rather than the state — from interfering with Ohioans’ exercise of their right to make reproductive decisions.

“Compounding these shortcomings is the fact that the Ballot Board was asked to put the clear, simple 194-word text of the amendment itself on the ballot, so that voters could see exactly what they were being asked to approve,” the suit notes. “But the Ballot Board refused, instead adopting a wholesale rewrite.”

“Indeed, the adopted language is longer (by word count) than the amendment it purports to condense,” the complaint continues. “All these new and extra words serve one purpose — to distort the actual text and meaning of the amendment.”

The board’s summary also changes the amendment’s inclusive “pregnant patient” language to “pregnant woman” and uses “unborn child” rather than medically accurate terms such as “embryo” and “fetus.”

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to direct the board to either use the full text of the amendment as the ballot language or reconvene “to prescribe lawful ballot language.”

The coalition spokesperson’s, Lauren Blauvelt, stressed in a statement Monday that “Issue 1 was clearly written to protect Ohioans’ right to make our own personal healthcare decisions about contraception, pregnancy, and abortion, free from government interference.”

“The summary that was adopted by the Ballot Board is intentionally misleading and fails to meet the standards required by Ohio law,” Blauvelt said. “Ohio voters deserve to see the full amendment language for Issue 1, which they can find at”

“The Ballot Board’s members adopted politicized, distorted language for the amendment, exploiting their authority in a last-ditch effort to deceive and confuse Ohio voters ahead of the November vote on reproductive freedom,” she added. “Voting yes on Issue 1 will put Ohioans back in charge of our personal decisions, and stop the government from dictating what’s best for our families.”

Outrage over the board’s summary has been growing since it was announced last week. Molly Meegan, chief legal officer and general counsel of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said Tuesday that “the summary is another attempt to remove decisions about reproductive healthcare from Ohio residents, replace them with the judgment of partisan forces that do not reflect the will of the voters, and impose bureaucrats’ personal ideology on the voters of Ohio.”

The language used to discuss abortion has a profound impact on how people form their opinions about reproductive healthcare, and the emotionally charged language that will now be presented to voters is neither clinically nor legally sound,” she explained. “Opponents of abortion access have historically and intentionally used emotionally coercive language, even creating their own biased terminology, in order to sway people away from understanding the reality of abortion care.”

Meegan added that “we strongly oppose the efforts of biased policymakers to manipulate people at the ballot box, and we urge voters to see through these attempts to influence their decisions and to advance protections for all the people whose lives would be benefited” by the amendment’s passage.

The board’s contested summary comes after another bid by Ohio’s Republicans to block the amendment. In an August 8 special election approved by the Ohio Supreme Court’s right-wing majority, voters rejected a proposal that would have raised the threshold to amend the state constitution via referendum from a simple majority to 60%.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a half-century of national abortion rights last year, there were six state ballot measures related to abortion. Voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont approved amendments to affirm reproductive rights while voters in Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana rejected proposals intended to restrict healthcare access.

Coalitions in Arizona and Nebraska have launched efforts to get pro-abortion rights measures on the ballot in 2024.