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Ohio’s Abortion Amendment Sparks Debate Over Parental Rights And Reproductive Freedom

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(CTN NEWS) – The proposed constitutional amendment on Ohio’s upcoming fall ballot, aimed at safeguarding abortion rights, appears to convey a straightforward message: it seeks to establish the right “to make and execute one’s own reproductive choices.”

However, as the fervent campaigning for and against the nation’s latest abortion debate intensifies this weekend, opponents of the measure are conveying a contrasting narrative. They are framing it as a potential threat to a broad spectrum of parental rights.

In one particularly foreboding online advertisement backed by the Protect Women Ohio campaign, it is described as “our worst nightmare” for parents concerning November’s Issue 1.

This advertisement suggests that the amendment could empower minors to terminate pregnancies without parental consent, painting a disturbing picture of a possible outcome that is difficult to fathom.

Another argument posits that parents may lose their ability to influence decisions related to minors’ “sex change surgery.”

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Anti-Abortion Groups Shaping Their Message Amidst a Changing Landscape

It’s unsurprising that anti-abortion groups opposing the amendment are emphasizing this message.

They are attempting to reshape their narrative to engage with voters following a series of losses in statewide ballot battles since the U.S. Supreme Court terminated nationwide abortion rights last year.

Measures aimed at safeguarding abortion access have triumphed in states with both Democratic and Republican leanings, such as California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont.

Data collected by AP VoteCast last year, which surveyed a wide spectrum of the electorate, revealed that 59% of Ohio voters believe abortion should generally be legal.

Just recently, Ohio voters decisively rejected a proposal placed on a special election ballot by GOP lawmakers that sought to raise the threshold for passing constitutional amendments to 60%.

This proposal was seen as a preliminary step toward defeating the abortion amendment.

Ahead of what is anticipated to become the most prominent national issue in the November elections, Ohio is also serving as a testing ground for political messaging in preparation for the upcoming presidential race next year.

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Abortion rights protesters hold signs to keep abortion safe in Ohio at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, after the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision, June 24, 2022. REUTERS/Megan Jelinger

Parental Consent Law and Its Interpretation

Abortion rights advocates are striving to qualify initiatives in more states in 2024, which could include perennial battleground states like Arizona.

To reverse their recent setbacks, anti-abortion groups are utilizing the Ohio campaign to test arguments surrounding parental rights and gender-related healthcare as potential counterarguments with winning potential.

Elisabeth Smith, Director of State Policy and Advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, remarked, “It’s evident that the spread of misinformation regarding abortion is not yielding positive results.

It didn’t work in Michigan, Vermont, Kansas, or Kentucky. Consequently, we are witnessing anti-abortion factions searching for new, persuasive talking points.”

Legal experts hold differing opinions on the potential impact of the Ohio amendment on parents’ authority to oversee their children’s access to abortion and gender-related healthcare, including surgical procedures.

The contentious aspects are found in the amendment’s specific wording.

While the amendment asserts that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” opponents are focusing on the terms “individual” and “reproductive” as potential openings for interpretation.

Mehek Cooke, a Republican lawyer working with Protect Women Ohio, argued that the amendment’s authors intentionally left the term “individual” vague, making it applicable to any gender and to both adults and minors.

She asserted, “This is a deliberate choice, and I don’t believe it’s open to interpretation. It’s very clear that ‘an individual’ means both.”

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Parental Consent Law and Its Interpretation in Ohio’s Abortion Amendment

Ohio currently has a law requiring parental consent for minors seeking abortion. Cooke argued that the wording of the amendment would render this law unconstitutional, along with any potential new legislation designed to limit minors’ access to gender-related healthcare.

Tracy Thomas, a law professor at the University of Akron who heads the school’s Center for Constitutional Law, was among several legal scholars who considered this interpretation of the amendment to be a stretch.

She commented, “It is a straw argument, a false argument that they’re setting up. Children do have constitutional rights, but we have plenty of examples in both state and federal law where these rights are restricted. Marriage is a good example.”

To overturn Ohio’s existing parental consent law, it would need to be legally challenged and invalidated by the state Supreme Court, which currently has a conservative majority, explained Jessie Hill, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and a consultant to the Issue 1 campaign.

Similar arguments related to parental consent were raised before Michigan’s vote last year to codify abortion rights in the state’s constitution, and “none of these things have come to pass.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization supporting legal access to abortion, Ohio is one of 36 states requiring parental involvement in a minor’s abortion decision.

Dan Kobil, a law professor at Capital University in Columbus, noted that the courts upheld Ohio’s parental consent law when abortion was legal nationwide, as long as it included a provision for judicial bypass in extreme cases.

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Navigating the Implications: Ohio Abortion Amendment and Parental Rights

Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that parents would still have the right to participate in reproductive decisions involving their children if the abortion amendment is approved.

The amendment does not mention gender-related healthcare, and its supporters argue that it’s not relevant to the proposal.

The amendment references reproductive decisions “including but not limited to” contraception, fertility treatment, continuing a pregnancy, miscarriage, and abortion.

Opponents are making the case to voters that this phrasing could potentially protect minors’ gender-related healthcare decisions from parental interference under the constitution.

Frank Scaturro, a constitutional lawyer working with Protect Women Ohio, argued that legal interpretations under the Roe v. Wade standard dealt with a document, the U.S. Constitution, “that says nothing at all specifically about abortion or even more broadly about reproduction.”

He suggested that under the Ohio amendment, any alteration to the human reproductive system could be seen as a “reproductive decision.”

However, David Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University, characterized such interpretations of the measure as “far-fetched.”

He contended, “This is a very clear provision that is based on, or connected to, abortion and pregnancy, and that is a very different topic than gender-affirming care. I can imagine some gender-affirming care might be related to fertility treatment, but that’s a very specific part of gender-affirming care. This is a scare tactic to try and make this about that.”

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