Will the Conservative Impulse Save the Pro-Life Cause in Ohio?
Early voting is already underway in Ohio, the nation’s next abortion battleground. On November 7, as polls close, votes will be tallied to determine whether or not Ohioans decided to enshrine “an individual right to … abortion” within their state constitution.
If voters check “yes” on Issue 1, Ohio will become the fourth state in the country (joining California, Michigan, and Vermont) to elevate abortion as a constitutionally protected form of “reproductive freedom.” Already in August, the pro-life cause in Ohio met one serious setback when an initiative to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments — an effort to stave off exactly the kind of constitutional amendment it now faces — failed dramatically with a double-digit spread. As Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said then, “Attacks on state constitutions are now the national playbook of the extreme pro-abortion Left.”
The pro-life movement has been caught flat-footed ever since its stunning victory in 2022, when the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade. Since the historic Dobbs decision came down, the pro-life cause has lost every time that the issue has appeared directly on the ballot, including in conservative-leaning states like Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, and Ohio.
Political scientist Jon A. Shields suggested in a recent article in The Atlantic that these losses aren’t a backlash against the pro-life movement as much as a fear of “the sudden disruption of the status quo.” In other words, in an ironic twist, it is a fundamentally conservative impulse that has driven the latest string of pro-life setbacks.
If Shields is right, however, that same conservative impulse that has cost pro-lifers so many losses elsewhere might be what ends up winning the day for the pro-life movement in Ohio. While Ohio is not as conservative as Kansas, Kentucky, or Montana, there are still at least two important differences between this and other votes that could help Ohio turn the tide with a pro-life victory.
For starters, this is the first time we will be seeing a major pro-abortion ballot initiative in a Republican-leaning state. Previous conservative losses were all instances where the pro-life movement was on the offensive, seeking to pare back abortion with various initiatives. In those states — as in Ohio’s previous constitutional amendment initiative — the status quo bias worked against the pro-life cause, but this time in Ohio, the same bias should work for pro-lifers defending the status quo against progressive overreach. Studies have shown that this is especially true in decisions about complex policies, like Issue 1, which invokes concepts like “fertility treatment,” “miscarriage care,” and “fetal viability,” rather than a straightforward yes-no decision on abortion.
Secondly, Americans have already rejected the most extreme form of the status quo that persisted for decades under Roe v. Wade and could be revived once again if Issue 1 succeeds: partial-birth abortion. Even to describe it is to recognize how repulsive the practice is, comparable to the kinds of barbaric actions that shocked the world with Hamas’s attack on Israel. The procedure involves the abortionist partially delivering the unborn child until the “entire baby’s head is outside the body of the mother” and then puncturing “the back of the child’s skull” to remove “the baby’s brains,” before delivering the rest of the now-dead infant.
This grisly practice was first put on the map by “Dr.” Martin Haskell and perfected by him in Ohio’s abortion facilities. But Ohioans ultimately rejected Haskell’s procedure, becoming the first state to ban it in 1995. Haskell, who continues to work as an abortionist, has donated at least $100,000 so far to reinvigorate Ohio’s status as the nation’s abortion laboratory. As Amy Natoce of Protect Women Ohio has said, Haskell “knows it is an investment in his late-term abortion practice,” as Haskell is on the record as performing partial-birth abortions from 20 weeks on “even into the ninth month.”
While Issue 1 has some provisions that its proponents falsely point to as “moderate,” including one that would allow the state to restrict abortion after fetal viability, except when “the abortion is necessary to protect the pregnant woman’s life or health,” pro-life organizations have repeatedly and definitively demonstrated that the viability standard does nothing to stop abortionists like Haskell from carrying out partial-birth abortions, when virtually all abortions are performed before viability comes into play. Even after viability, the Supreme Court demonstrated in Doe v. Bolton that “health” exceptions can include anything from emotional health to “well-being” to serve as a loophole for abortion on demand at any point during a pregnancy (and in the case of partial-birth abortion, even after the baby is on the outside).
If Ohioans’ conservative impulses — to uphold the status quo and reject the most barbaric forms of abortion — can’t be counted on to stop Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby in-state, the pro-life movement is in big trouble.
Paul Teller serves as executive director of Advancing American Freedom in Washington, D.C.