Ohio Supreme Court orders tweak of abortion ballot language, most GOP words will remain

The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the Ohio Ballot Board to reword a portion of its ballot language for an abortion rights amendment, but the majority of the GOP-written wording will remain in place.
The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the Ohio Ballot Board to reword a portion of its ballot language for an abortion rights amendment, but the majority of the GOP-written wording will remain in place.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the Ohio Ballot Board to reword a portion of its ballot language for an abortion rights amendment, but the majority of the GOP-written wording will remain in place.

On Tuesday, the court ordered the five-member board to replace "citizens of the state of Ohio" with the "state of Ohio" when describing who can limit abortion access. Justice Pat Fischer, a Republican, joined with the court's three Democrats on that point.

"We conclude that the term 'citizens of the State' is misleading in that it suggests to the average voter that the proposed amendment would restrict the actions of individual citizens instead of the government," according to the court's decision.

But the court won't order the board to change other phrases that the ballot campaign Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights argued were "intentionally misleading." For example, the proposed constitutional amendment would protect access to miscarriage care, contraception and fertility treatment, but the GOP language focused solely on abortion. Republicans also substituted "unborn child" for "fetus."

“This should have been simple, but the Ohio Ballot Board tried to mislead voters yet again," said Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights spokesperson Lauren Blauvelt, adding that Issue 1 was written to detail reproductive rights concisely. "The actual amendment language communicates that right clearly and without distortion.”

Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy, Justice Pat DeWine and Justice Joe Deters, all Republicans, would not have ordered any tweaks to the ballot language. "The Ohio Ballot Board’s language does not mislead, deceive or defraud voters," Deters wrote in a dissent joined by Kennedy and DeWine.

Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said the court got it right, adding "Ohioans have a crystal clear picture now of this dangerous ballot initiative and what it would do to unborn children.”

However, Democrats on the court would have thrown out more of the GOP-crafted language. Justice Michael Donnelly, a Democrat, wrote in his opinion: "It’s unfortunate that advocacy seems to have infiltrated a process that is meant to be objective and neutral."

Justice Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, wrote: "(Republicans on the Ohio Ballot Board) obfuscated the actual language of the proposed state constitutional amendment by substituting their own language and creating out of whole cloth a veil of deceit and bias in their desire to impose their views on Ohio voters about what they think is the substance of the proposed amendment."

The Ohio Ballot Board, led by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, is tasked with writing the words that will appear on the ballot for statewide ballot measures. Last month, Republicans on the board approved language for the abortion rights measure over the objections of the panel's Democratic members, who called the wording inaccurate and unfair.

Ballot language is what voters will see at the polls, but the actual amendment's language is what would be added to the Ohio Constitution − if voters approve the measure later this year.

Brunner criticized LaRose and fellow Republican ballot board member Sen. Theresa Gavarone for expressing their opposition to the abortion rights amendment through their ballot board roles: "Simply put, the chair of the board may express his opinion about the amendment when he casts his vote on election day, just like every other Ohioan," Brunner wrote of LaRose.

And of Gavarone, Brunner wrote: "Her constitutional duty is to prescribe accurate ballot language − not to argue against the adoption of the proposed amendment."

The proposed constitutional amendment, called Issue 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot, would enshrine protections for reproductive decisions, including abortion, in the state constitution. Abortions could be performed after viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the uterus, to save a pregnant patient's life or health. That decision would be made by the patient's doctor.

Opponents say it goes too far and would eliminate any limits on abortion, including parental consent currently required for minors' abortions.

More: What Ohioans need to know about November ballot issue on abortion

The court's ruling marks the second time in recent months that the Supreme Court has ordered the Ohio Ballot Board to correct language. The court also found problems with language used on an August issue to make it harder to amend the state constitution. That measure failed 57% to 43%.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Ohio Supreme Court orders tweak of abortion ballot language