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Abortion Referendums in the Midwest: What Ohio’s Pro-Life Movement Can Learn From Kansas and Kentucky
Allie Frazier | 24 January 2023
On December 12th, 2022, a pro-abortion political action committee cunningly entitled “Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights'' announced their intentions to put abortion on the ballot in Ohio. By passing an amendment that would enshrine a “right to an abortion” in Ohio’s Constitution, the pro-abortion side could potentially see pro-life laws in Ohio easily struck down in the courts, regardless of what legislation Ohio’s elected representatives put forward. Although the exact repercussions of passing such an amendment in Ohio are not fully clear given that the language of OPRR’s amendment has yet to be released, it is safe to assume that the impact would be devastating.
Similar efforts to pass state-wide pro-abortion ballot initiatives and conversely, to defeat statewide pro-life ballot initiatives, have proved successful in a handful of states since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. It is helpful therefore to examine what factors and tactics played a part in a few of these campaigns so as to avoid the same setbacks in Ohio.
For the sake of clarity, it is logical to rule out successful pro-abortion efforts in states like California and Vermont which have vastly different populations and political landscapes than solidly Midwest states like Ohio. However, states like Kentucky and Kansas share much in common with Ohio. Both are either mid or near west and have also been inundated by the work of Mission Control Inc., a Democrat firm specializing in direct mail. OPRR has already hired Mission Control to spearhead their abortion amendment push in Ohio. Two of the first three team members listed on Mission Control’s website boast direct pro-abortion activism ties, with one formerly employed by Emily’s List and the other by Planned Parenthood. The pro-abortion side is clearly attempting to recreate their successes in Kentucky and Kansas in Ohio. Thankfully, Ohio now has the advantage of hindsight and can recognize the strengths of our movement while directly addressing areas the pro-abortion side consistently exploits.
Several main issues have proven difficult to navigate in the Midwest’s fight against abortion activism, with the most pertinent being messaging and funding. Messaging on the life issue has become increasingly complex post-Roe, and no state is more aware of this fact than Ohio. Indeed, the case that shocked the nation, that of a 10-year-old girl horrifically assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend and driven to Indiana for an abortion, took place in Ohio. At the time, many in the pro-life fight, aware of the sensitive and heartbreaking nature of the situation, chose to tread lightly. Unfortunately, the pro-abortion side used this opportunity to control the story’s trajectory in the media. And although local and national news shamelessly used this child’s tragedy to bolster their abortion narrative, they conveniently ignored that the man responsible for the assault was only arrested after pro-life leadership in Ohio looked beyond talking points and demanded tangible answers.
In order to defeat OPRR’s ballot proposal, Ohio’s pro-life movement will have to be both fearless and unrelenting in their messaging, especially around the most difficult conversations including rape, incest, and miscarriage. Passivity is no longer an option. Going on the offensive by pointing out Planned Parenthood’s endemic failure to report the abuse of minors and their push to roll back parental consent rights, which would become even easier if a right to abortion is added into Ohio’s constitution, is a talking point easily accessible to the pro-life movement. Sadly, the abortion industry has left behind an extensive trail of young women and girls harmed by their abortion-first policies and practices. Recounting various instances of their failure to protect patients puts the focus back on real women and their stories and away from the abortion industry’s manufactured motives of goodwill.
Similarly, pro-lifers must also resist the urge to speak exclusively in classic pro-life terms. Ohioans unsure of their own positions need to be reached for life. The necessity of this was made abundantly clear in the wake of Kansas’ tragically defeated Value Them Both amendment. In Kansas, the pro-abortion campaign specifically targeted the “mushy-middle” as people of interest. Kansas’ pro-abortion efforts, which ultimately defeated the proposed pro-life constitutional amendment 59% to 41%, focused their messaging on centrist voters they knew they had the potential to persuade. Instead of pandering to the pro-abortion base, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom centered even their PAC’s name toward Kansas’ right-leaning population. One particular strategic choice involved consciously using the term “women” in their messaging instead of their pro-abortion bases’ left-leaning “people who can get pregnant.” Although this proved internally controversial, the attempt to pull in those on the right ultimately proved successful, and after felling the Value Them Both amendment, Kansas’ pro-abortion messaging engineer, a former operative for Planned Parenthood, moved on to Kentucky.
Beyond the importance of focused messaging, funding has also proved a critical variable in other states. Although Kansas’ funding appeared close on either side, Kentucky’s funding for the pro-abortion side drastically outpaced pro-life efforts. Kentucky’s pro-life PAC, Yes For Life, created to defend their proposed constitutional amendment which would clarify that there was no right to abortion in the Kentucky constitution, listed just shy of 2 million in their last campaign finance report. In contrast, Protect Access Kentucky listed over 12 million. A quick look at the itemized donations for each PAC is similarly shocking. Protect Access Kentucky’s money came not just from Kentucky, but also from pro-abortion strongholds in California, New York, and even Washington state. Perhaps most shockingly, these donations included a $15,000 dollar gift from Steven Spielberg.
Yes For Life’s itemized donations, by contrast, were primarily from local nonprofits, churches, and a handful of individuals and small business owners. At least one donor listed their occupation as “Farmer.” Out-of-state donations came from other states in the Midwest, many of which would be directly impacted by ensuring a strong culture of life in Kentucky. Sadly, the millions raked in by Protect Access Kentucky, combined with a cut-throat messaging strategy, turned the tide for the culture of death and Kentucky’s Constitutional Amendment 2 was defeated 52% to 48%. Thankfully, Kentucky’s Trigger Law has held the line and is still in effect, awaiting further court action. Unfortunately, Ohio does not have a trigger law to fall back on and is currently faced with reinforcing our blocked Heartbeat Law while simultaneously warding off attempts to amend Ohio’s constitution.
Additionally, Ohio’s constitutional rules provide a unique challenge. Ohio’s constitution can be amended by a simple 50% plus one vote majority. Ohio’s Secretary of State Frank LaRose is currently spearheading efforts to raise the bar to a 60-40 threshold, however, this must first be passed by Ohio’s legislature. That process could take time, and although some pro-abortion entities in Ohio have signaled that they may delay introducing a ballot initiative until 2024, OPRR has made it clear they intended to file the language for their ballot initiative as soon as February of 2023.
This is the complex battle Ohio will face. Despite these obstacles, Ohio has the advantage of strong pro-life leadership and of being on the side of maintaining the constitution’s status quo. Still, the abortion industry will not go down quietly. Here, there is too much at stake. 21,813 abortions were committed in Ohio in 2021. By contrast, Kentucky and Kansas respectively reported 4,441 and 7,849 abortions in 2021. Ohio is in the top ten of most populous states in the U.S. and has nearly 20 Planned Parenthood locations. The abortion industry has no intention of ceasing to profit off of at-risk women in Ohio. Rather, they will continue to ensure the padding of their bottom line and sacrifice the integrity of Ohio’s constitution in the process.
To protect Ohio from radical pro-abortion overstep, Ohio’s pro-life movement will need to flawlessly execute a well-funded messaging campaign that puts the people of Ohio’s values front and center. This fight could very well come down to the strong values of the average midwestern vs. the slush funds of out-of-state elites who have probably never even set foot in the Buckeye State. Although Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Choice has not yet listed any campaign finance records on Ohio’s PAC database, it is safe to assume that it will soon welcome a lush cash flow from D.C. operatives and members of Hollywood who somehow feel that their brand of morality is welcome in Ohio’s family-centric culture. That money will no doubt buy the ability to spread pro-abortion misinformation throughout our state and muddy the waters for well-meaning Ohioans. In Ohio, there is a common saying that we ironically co-oped from our northern neighbors in Michigan: “Ohio Against the World.” When the pro-abortion side singled out Ohio as their next potential victim, they failed to put into account the depth of our values and our fierce commitment to protect our friends and neighbors, whether born or preborn. National high rollers may pay millions to see Ohio’s culture of life fall, but Ohioans of conscience will give everything to stop them. Victory for Ohio’s pro-life movement is within reach, and to quote Ohio’s state motto, “With God, all things are possible.”
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