Pro-life leaders point to fundraising, media and culture in Ohio ballot measure loss

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- After Ohio voters on Nov. 7 approved a measure that will codify abortion access in the state's constitution, some pro-life leaders blamed fundraising issues and the media for this latest ballot box defeat, while others pointed to the need to increase cultural pro-life efforts.

Ohio voters passed Issue 1, with 56.6% voting "yes" while 43.4% voted "no." The measure legalizes abortion up to the point of fetal viability -- the gestational point at which a baby may be capable of living outside the uterus -- and beyond, if a physician decided an abortion was necessary for the sake of the mother's life or health. The state's six-week abortion ban, which would have outlawed a majority of abortions but has been tied up in litigation, is unlikely to survive judicial review given the new amendment.

The Ohio results were not an outlier Nov. 7 as other candidates who ran on anti-abortion platforms lost. The Nov. 7 elections also resulted in electoral defeats for Republican candidates in Kentucky and Virginia who campaigned on anti-abortion platforms.

Democratic incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear defeated Republican challenger Daniel Cameron to win another term as Kentucky governor. In Virginia, Democrats also won back control of the General Assembly in a campaign that often centered on Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's opposition to abortion. On the campaign trail for Virginia Republicans, Gov. Youngkin advocated a 15-week abortion ban, which also has been proposed as a national minimum standard.

The loss for the pro-life movement in Ohio marks another electoral defeat for anti-abortion ballot measures in the wake of the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision. In 2022, voters in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont and Kansas either rejected new limitations on abortion or expanded legal protections for it. Abortion advocates are seeking to hold comparable votes in 2024 in states including Arizona and Florida.

In a memo provided to OSV News that was written by the group SBA Pro-Life America, which works to elect anti-abortion candidates, the loss was blamed on supporters of the measure outspending opponents by "a 2:1 margin," and they claimed the in-state media "ran interference for the abortion lobby."

"Pro-abortion forces are already organizing major ballot initiatives across more states in 2024," the memo said. "Pro-life and GOP forces must begin preparing for these fights now, most urgently raising the funds necessary to cut through the abortion lobby's lies and deception, aided significantly by their allies in the media."

Stephen Billy, vice president of state affairs for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, called the results "disappointing," and said they made clear "the abortion industry is going to use the money it takes to create campaigns of fear and deception to try to pass their extreme policies of abortion without limits."

"What we have to make sure to do is get the truth about these amendments to voters, and at the same time, we have to be able to better address the lies that they're going to tell," Billy told OSV News. "You know, when the other side is running ads that say there's no life-of-the-mother exception in Ohio, when that isn't true. We have to find a way to make sure we're both exposing the truth and the extreme policies of these amendments, correcting the record and fighting back against the lies from the other side when they're deceiving voters about the reality of pro-life laws."

Asked about whether the results reflected issues with messaging, Billy said, "We just have to be more explicit and more committed to making sure that there's clarity around what the pro-life laws are."

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and president of New Wave Feminists, told OSV News that "Theodore Roosevelt said, 'People don't care how much you know until they know you care.'"

"Our culture will not shift to one that values life until it sees the pro-life movement truly caring about society on all levels," Herndon-De La Rosa said. "So what now? The answer is simple. Keep caring for mothers and children. Care for them even more. Do it so well and so big that no one can deny how much we care. And then perhaps the laws will change, but even if they don't -- society will."

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, told OSV News that "we face a big challenge as a pro-life movement," as do those who are pro-life Democrats.

"I just hope the Democratic Party steps up and returns to being a pro-choice party and not the pro-abortion party," Day said, arguing that Democrats should support pregnancy resource centers and other alternatives to abortion. "Because we've just been headed down that lane for too long. And you know, this is the breaking point. Like where are we going to be as a party? And it's not pro-choice anymore."

- - - Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @kgscanlon.