Editor’s note. This originally appeared at the Society of St. Sebastian and is reposted with permission.
As the push to codify abortion in Ohio intensifies, the semantics surrounding proposed a constitutional amendment entitled Issue 1 are proving pivotal in the change’s success or failure. With barely a month left before Ohioans head to the ballot box, both those for and against the constitutional amendment continue to vie for control of the language used to describe the proposal, which would enshrine a right to abortion in the Ohio Constitution. If passed, Issue 1 would legalize abortion through all nine-months of pregnancy and end parental consent requirements for abortion. To better understand the critical role language plays in the fight to save Ohio’s culture of life, it is helpful to examine both key points of the amendment’s language and the attempts brought forth to clarify its impact.
Many of the debates surrounding Issue 1 concern its vague language, the “legalese” of which the average Ohioan may not readily discern. One such point of contention is whether Issue 1 would impact parent’s rights. Upon examination, it is clear that Issue 1’s wording will put parental rights directly at risk. The amendment states “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions including but not limited to…abortion.” By using the term “individual” instead of “woman” or even “adult,” Issue 1 extends the “right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions” to include minors. Any doubts that the amendment is not worded intentionally to do so are easily quelled by those advocating for its passage. The executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio (formerly NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio), when recently questioned by the Cincinnati Enquirer as to whether a conversation ever occurred suggesting Issue 1 be worded in such a manner that parental rights would be protected, responded, “Not really.”
Despite this, proponents of Issue 1 have argued that parents’ rights are not directly mentioned in the amendment, therefore they will not be affected. This incoherent explanation rings hollow when compared to the words and actions of pro-abortion groups who have pushed abortion amendments in other states. For instance, in Michigan, where Proposition 3, an abortion rights amendment very similar to Issue 1, passed last year, pro-abortion leaders have already voiced their disdain of Michigan’s parental consent laws surrounding abortion, calling them “harmful” and signaling their desire to repeal.
Currently, Michigan’s pro-life protections are not being enforced and legislation has already been introduced which would decimate many of the pro-life protections that remain on the books.  Shockingly, Issue 1’s impact would prove even more immediately devastating for Ohio. Unlike Prop 3, Issue 1 is self-executing and does not require additional actions by the legislature or courts to go into effect. If passed by 50% plus 1 vote or more, Issue 1 will go into effect 30 days after passage and Ohio’s pro-life protections will become nearly impossible to defend. If pro-life protection is deemed to not be in service of upholding an individual’s right to abortion, it will be ruled unconstitutional.
This will leave only the bare minimum of health and safety standards in effect. In Ohio, admitting privileges to local hospitals or a variance are required for ambulatory surgical facilities such as abortion facilities to ensure a standard of care in the event of a medical emergency. Laws such as these will not survive. These conversations played out in court cases previously such as June v. Russo where an admitting privilege law was ruled to be a barrier to abortion access. If Issue 1 passes, the state of Ohio will be forced to defend a right to abortion against any laws its own legislature may pass.
As dismal a thought this is, focusing on parental rights has proved a key line of defense against pro-abortion attempts to obscure the impact of Issue 1’s jurisdiction. Although pro-abortion groups have attempted to alternately minimize or ignore concerns that the amendment’s language would end parental notification laws concerning abortion, their actions elsewhere suggest a crack in their seemingly iron-clad defenses. In Florida, pro-abortion activist’s newest target, a newly proposed right-to-abortion amendment explicitly states it will not affect parental rights, a significant addition. Although such language may make future statewide abortion ballot initiatives more difficult to fight, this is a clear indication that pro-life messaging on parent’s rights has struck a nerve.
However, impacts on parental consent and health and safety standards are not the only radical changes concealed in Issue 1’s vague language. The amendment also opens the door for abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. Though many pro-lifers use verbal short-hand to describe this as “abortion through all nine months for any reason” it is helpful to unpack the amendment’s language to detail why exactly that would be the case.
Despite liberal usage of viability terminology, Issue 1 would legalize abortion through all nine months using similar loopholes to those that existed during the time of Roe v. Wade. Issue 1 details the requirements for abortions after fetal viability as those that “are necessary to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health.” Roe v. Wade, though now confined to the ash heap of history, is a key indicator to forecast how the courts will likely interpret the term “health” as used in Issue 1.
Roe v. Wade, in conjunction with its companion case Doe v. Bolton, legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy in all fifty states. Health was defined in Doe to include “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.” The evidence of these loopholes remains apparent in states like New Mexico and Oregon, where late-term abortions were legal even under Roe and Doe. It seems unlikely that this same standard will not be used in Ohio if Issue 1 passes, given that the very people committing abortions will also be those deciding whether a patient’s situation is dire enough to warrant their continued business. Issue 1’s language is designed to empower the abortion industry and hand it the power to regulate itself. To assume that pro-abortion forces will not use the same tactical semantics they used in Roe and Doe is naive, even with the legal weight of both now gone. Their intentions remain the same: legalize abortion and tear down every protection they deem an obstacle to it. The battle for language remains ongoing.
This contest, however, has not been confined to the amendment itself. After Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose put forth the official language for how Issue 1 would appear on the ballot, Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights sued. Their objections included LaRose’s use of the word “unborn child” instead of “fetus” in the official ballot language. These objections prove exceptionally ironic considering how pro-abortion forces have historically weaponized semantics. One such instance in recent memory is a Hamilton County judge who blocked Ohio’s Heartbeat Law by classifying abortion as “healthcare” and then proceeded to use an anti-Affordable Care Act ruling to justify blocking said law.
Thankfully, the Ohio Supreme Court ultimately upheld the majority of the Ballot Board’s language stating, “We disagree with relators because the ballot language is factually accurate. While relators do not like the way in which the language is phrased, the structure of the statements is not improperly argumentative…” Small victories are victories nonetheless. The usage of language on the ballot which correctly acknowledges the humanity of the preborn comprises one more tool utilizable by Ohio’s pro-life movement to reveal Issue 1 for what it truly is: a brutal and blatant attack on women, children, and their families.
As Ohio’s battle for life continues, the words used by both sides play a pivotal role in determining the future of the Buckeye State. Ohio’s pro-life movement must continue to boldly and decisively hold those pushing Issue 1 accountable for not just their intentionally deceptive use of language but their outright lies as well. Issue 1 is an extreme, anti-parent, anti-woman, and anti-life change to Ohio’s founding document which would subject Ohioans to a pro-abortion hellscape worse than that under Roe. Attempts to obscure this fact come from an abortion industry eager to profit off the well-intentioned people of Ohio. Any and every Ohioan who cares about life, family, and their state’s future would do well to vote no on Issue 1 on November 7th.
 “The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety,” ohioattorneygeneral.com. Accessed October 4, 2023. https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/getattachment/cf27c10f-b153-4731-ae9e-e3555a326ed9/The-Right-to-Reproductive-Freedom-with-Protections-for-Health-and-Safety.aspx?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=e91734df-b8b0-47f6-aa48-8916ca7e9926.
 Balmert, Jessie. “Ohio Abortion Rights Advocates Concerned Parental Consent Law Doesn’t Work for Abused Kids,” cincinnati.com, August 28, 2023. https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2023/08/28/abortion-rights-backer-concerned-ohio-parental-consent-law-doesnt-work-for-abused-kids/70697791007/.
 LeBlanc, Beth. “Whitmer Set to Seek End of Abortion Waiting Period, Other Abortion Regulations,” detroitnews.com, August 28, 2023. https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2023/08/28/michigan-abortion-rights-groups-push-to-nix-some-rules-limiting-abortion-access/70699491007/.
 Donahue, Allison R. “After Proposal 3’s Passage, Whitmer Requires State Depts. to Better Protect Reproductive Rights,” Michiganadvance.com, December 14, 2022. https://michiganadvance.com/2022/12/14/after-proposal-3s-passage-whitmer-requires-state-depts-to-better-protect-reproductive-rights/.
 Meyers, Elle. “Michigan Democrats Introduce Bills Repealing State’s Anti-Abortion Laws .” cbsnews.com, September 7, 2023. https://www.cbsnews.com/detroit/news/michigan-democrats-introduce-bills-repealing-states-anti-abortion-laws/.
 “Issue 1: A Self-Executing Amendment Relating to Abortion and Other Reproductive Decisions,” Ohio Ballot Board, August 24, 2023.
 “Section 3702.303: Transfer Agreements.” Section 3702.303 – Ohio Revised Code | Ohio Laws. Accessed October 4, 2023. https://codes.ohio.gov/ohio-revised-code/section-3702.303.
 Wolf, Richard. “Supreme Court Strikes down Abortion Clinic Restrictions in Louisiana, a Defeat for Conservatives,” USA TODAY, June 29, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20200701172224/https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/06/29/abortion-supreme-court-strikes-down-louisiana-restrictions-clinics/3014787001/.
 “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion,” Initiative information. Accessed October 4, 2023. https://dos.elections.myflorida.com/initiatives/initdetail.asp?account=83927&seqnum=1.
 See 2
 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Summary of Roe v. Wade and Other Key Abortion Cases,” usccb.org. Accessed October 4, 2023.
 Edelman, Adam. “New Mexico Braces for Influx after Supreme Court Allows Texas Abortion Restriction,.” nbcnews.com, September 3, 2021. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/new-mexico-braces-influx-after-supreme-court-allows-texas-abortion-n1278362.
 See 2
 Lebowitz, Megan. “Ohio Reproductive Rights Group Sues State Ballot Board over Abortion Ballot Language.” nbcnews.com, August 29, 2023. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/ohio-reproductive-rights-group-sues-ballot-board-abortion-ballot-langu-rcna102382.
 Planalp, Brian, and Kendall Hyde. “Hamilton County Judge Indefinitely Blocks Ohio Abortion Law,” fox19.com, October 7, 2022. https://www.fox19.com/2022/10/07/hamilton-county-judge-grants-injunction-against-ohio-abortion-law/.
 State ex rel. Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights v. Ohio Ballot Bd., (Supreme Court of Ohio September 19, 2023).