Sweeping Amendment could have far-reaching consequences
Abortion-advocacy groups are in the process of collecting 413,000 signatures in an attempt to place a proposed state constitutional amendment on the November 2023 ballot. According to an Op Ed in the National Review, this broadly worded amendment would outlaw virtually any restrictions on abortion and all other procedures, including sex-change surgeries, which touch on reproduction, for both adults and minors. It would remove not only parental-consent laws but also parental notification for minors’ abortions or sex-change surgeries; strike down health protections for people of all ages that undergo these procedures, including requirements that a qualified physician perform them; and erase any meaningful limits on late-term abortions.
If passed by Ohio voters, the proposed Ohio constitutional amendment would open the door to make the state into a haven for no-limits abortion and other procedures. Complete strangers who assist children in obtaining life-altering procedures would find themselves on the right side of the law, while parents who try to protect their children would be deemed to have run afoul of the law.
Currently the amendment could pass with a simple majority of votes (50% plus 1 vote) and become enshrined in the state constitution rendering Ohio’s elected representatives powerless to pass any statute that would undo the damage.
Lawsuit interrupts the process
The amendment advanced smoothly through the approval process to get on the ballot. The final step was approved on March 13, when members of the bipartisan Ballot Board determined that the proposal contained only one amendment. This allowed supporters to begin gathering the 413,000 signatures needed by July 7th to get the measure before the voters in November of 2023.
Then on March 27, plaintiffs Margaret DeBlase of Montgomery County and John Giroux of Hamilton County represented by Cincinnati-area attorney Curt Hartman filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court. The lawsuit claims that the proposed amendment contains multiple topics and requests that the Supreme Court direct the Ballot Board to reverse its determination and to break it up into several proposals. They argued that some activities described in the proposal would establish individual constitutional rights, but others concern “the interests and rights of a third party, i.e., the unborn child.”
Court sets April 7 deadline
Amendment backers asked the Ohio Supreme Court to expedite the deadlines for briefings. The court approved an accelerated evidence and briefing schedule. The deadline for submitting all relevant court documents, including arguments in favor of and against the lawsuit and supporting evidence, is set as April 7th.
The stakes in the case are high. If the amendment were broken into multiple issues, backers would have to gather the required 413,000 signatures for each one, and convince voters to approve several questions rather than just one. That would require more time and resources from abortion-rights activists.
Attorneys weigh in on the case
Mark Weaver, a conservative strategist and attorney who has worked on Republican causes in the past, told Statehouse News that he isn’t convinced the lawsuit is without merit. “At first glance it appears to be two parts,” Weaver said. Weaver said he’s taking the length of the petition summary into consideration when making that comment. “The longer an amendment is that voters have to read through, the more likely it is that it covers more than one topic. And so it’s worth asking the court to look it to decide once and for all so we can have some finality as to whether this is one part or two parts,” Weaver said.
Jonathan Entin, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, told the Statehouse News: “If the court agrees with the plaintiffs that the amendment contains more than one subject, then we are back to the drawing board. And the current petition won’t work because it proposes, it is to vote on the whole amendment as a single package,” Entin said.
And even if the court expedites the case, Entin said the legal process could still take weeks. “It would probably make it impossible for this proposed constitutional amendment to be on the November ballot because the proponents won’t be able to get enough signatures if they have to go back to the drawing board and re-craft the petitions so they have two or however many different amendments the court decides would be involved,” Entin said.
All eyes are on Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy
When taking her oath office earlier this year, Ohio’s new Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy promised “a new day” at the high court. Observers noted that she could cast the deciding vote on crucial topics like abortion and redistricting. She became only the second female justice to preside over the state’s highest court, bringing with her a unique background.
She served as a police officer with the Hamilton, Ohio Police Department, earned a law degree in 1991 from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, established a private practice, served as a domestic relations judge in Butler County and was elected to Ohio Supreme Court in December 2012.
In the past, Kennedy has vocalized her support of life beginning at conception and said that the constitution does not protect abortion. However, should the Supreme Court decide to accept the case, Kennedy is expected to examine the case before her as a matter of law and not lean on her personal feelings concerning abortion.
During her inauguration, Kennedy said she has maintained the same judicial philosophy since she first joined the state Supreme Court. “The next justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio must be someone who is vigilantly and strictly dedicated to the separation of powers. To exercise restraint and say what the law says, not what the law should be… The people of Ohio have bestowed upon me the greatest honor of my life in giving me this opportunity to serve. I promise you, I will not let you down,” Kennedy said.