By Lynna Lai
After the statewide Issue 1 passed in Tuesday’s general election with nearly 57% of the vote, Ohio Republicans signaled plans to try to lessen the effects of the constitutional amendment that protects abortions up to the point of fetal viability.
Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), said in a statement, “The legislature has multiple paths that we will explore to continue to protect innocent life. This is not the end of the conversation.”
So, what could the GOP-controlled legislature do?
Leading up to the election, Gov. Mike DeWine decried what he called broad language in the amendment, specifically in the post-viability exception for the “health” of the mother.
“You can have restrictions after viability, but then [the amendment language] goes on after that and talks about ‘health’ of the mother,” DeWine argued, saying that it could refer to financial or mental health.
Cleveland State University constitutional law professor Dr. Abigail Moncrieff said pro-life legislators could pass measures to define “health” to exclude emotional and economic health in order to narrow the right to post-viability abortions. She added that the Ohio House and Senate — both controlled by Republican supermajorities — might try to give a legislative definition of “viability.”
The amendment, Moncrieff noted, specifies that doctors must be free to determine viability on a case-by-case basis, but the legislature could try to define the parameters within which doctors are permitted to exercise that constitutionally protected judgment.
“The legislature could, for example, define viability as 21 weeks gestational age, which could be consistent with doctors’ constitutionally protected right to determine viability on a case-by-case basis because the doctors would still have to determine the gestational age of each fetus,” Moncrieff explained.
“The risk with that approach is that, as medicine improves its capacity to support newborn life at earlier and earlier gestational ages, the legislature would have to keep adjusting the line,” she said.
Efforts to undo Issue 1?
In what would perhaps be the most dramatic move, sources tell 3News Investigates that Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has had discussions with colleagues about the possibility of putting another constitutional amendment on the ballot next year that would undo Issue 1. GOP lawmakers are currently discussing an amendment that bans abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions.
However, they are running out of time — constitutional amendments proposed by joint resolution of the General Assembly must be filed with the Secretary of State by Dec. 20 for the 2024 primary election ballot in May.
Issue 1 takes effect Dec. 7, 30 days after Election Day.