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Lawsuit filed against Ohio Ballot Board over ballot language for abortion amendment

Gavel outside the Ohio Supreme Court
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Gavel outside the Ohio Supreme Court

A lawsuit has been filed over the summary language the Ohio Ballot Board chose last week for a proposed amendment on the November ballot that would enshrine abortion and reproductive rights into the state constitution.

The lawsuit filed with the Ohio Supreme Court contends the ballot summary language adopted with the Republican-dominated board is inaccurate and biased, and it asks the court to force the board to change it.

The lawsuit was not unexpected. Immediately following last Thursday's meeting where the language was set, backers of the amendment said they would consider a lawsuit.

Lauren Blauvelt with Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights said the language that voters will read when they cast either absentee or in-person ballots is incorrect and political.

“The entire summary is propaganda that is written by anti-abortion politicians,” Blauvelt said.

The summary language referred to “unborn child” instead of “fetus,” the medical term used in the amendment itself. The ballot summary also referred to prohibiting “the citizens of the State of Ohio from directly or indirectly burdening, penalizing or prohibiting abortion before an unborn child is determined to be viable, unless the State demonstrates that it is using the least restrictive means.” That language is different than what is in the amendment.

Backers of the amendment had urged the ballot board to use the language of the amendment itself as the summary but Ohio Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who leads the board, said it was too long. Democrats disagreed, pointing out the summary language that was passed was nearly as long as the amendment.

But Republicans on the board said the length of the amendment language wasn’t the only problem. Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) said it was too vague and broad. While making her point, she drew objections from Democrats on the board for the language she used.

"No one should be fooled by the clever language of this amendment. It's designed to be broad. So broad that should it pass it is unequivocally true that access to painful late term abortions will be written into Ohio's constitution," Gavarone said, adding, "it's a bridge too far."

Fellow board member Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) said she was appalled by Gavarone's language.

Blauvelt said the lawsuit asks that the court order the Ohio Ballot Board to use the language from the actual amendment in the summary or correct problems with the current summary language.

“The summary adopted by the ballot board was intentionally misleading and fails to meet the standards that are required by Ohio law," Blauvelt said.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said the board got it right with the language it used in the summary instead of the amendment itself.

"Planned Parenthood is obviously worried that Ohioans are realizing that the language is dangerous and a bridge too far for even pro-choice women," Gonidakis said.

The fight over the ballot language now lies with this lawsuit before the Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court. Three of the four GOP justices have publicly declared personal anti-abortion stances.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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