The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday set the schedule for a lawsuit from Cincinnati Right to Life against the Ohio Ballot Board regarding a citizen-led ballot initiative that would ensure access to abortion.
Earlier this month, the Ohio Ballot Board gave the approval needed for groups in favor of access to abortion to start collecting signatures for an amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would ensure that access. The Ohio Ballot Board met March 13 to determine whether the proposed constitutional amendment contained only one proposed amendment, and the board ruled it was a single-issue amendment.
Anti-abortion activists say the proposed amendment contains multiple topics, and they are now looking to the Ohio Supreme Court to force the Ohio Ballot Board to vacate its previous decision.
“Dayton Right to Life, along with our friends at Cincinnati Right to Life want to hear from Ohio’s Supreme Court on this issue. The future of women’s health and the safety of our children are at the heart of this extreme amendment and Ohio needs to get this right,” said Margie Christie, executive director of Dayton Right to Life.
The lawsuit filed last week came from relators Margaret DeBlase and John Giroux, who are from Cincinnati Right to Life and being represented by the law firm of Curt C. Hartman. A relator is a person who brings a lawsuit on behalf of another party, such as on behalf of the government. In this case, the relators are resident electors who say they have a standing to bring mandamus actions to enforce public duties in election matters.
DeBlase and Giroux are seeking to obtain the issuance of a writ of mandamus, which is a judicial writ issued as a command, to have the Ohio Supreme Court compel the Ohio Ballot Board to vacate their decision that only one amendment was proposed.
Additionally, the relators are seeking to have the court make the Ohio Ballot Board issue a determination that the petition for the proposed amendment contains more than one proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution and divide the foregoing initiative petition into individual petitions.
The respondents in this lawsuit include members of the Committee to Represent Petitioners, including Nancy Kramer, Aziza Wahby, David Hackney, Jennifer McNally, and Ebony Speakes-Hall. Those individuals were designated as a committee to represent the petitioners for this proposed amendment that is in the process of collecting signatures to be approved for the ballot.
The counsel for that committee recently filed a response to the lawsuit, asking the court to dismiss it. The response says the relators Margaret DeBlase and John Giroux “lack standing to bring their Complaint,” “fail to state a claim upon which can be granted,” and “fail to meet the requirements for mandamus relief.”
Tuesday’s motion from the Ohio Supreme Court granted an unopposed motion from the respondents for an expedited evidence and briefing schedule. Merit briefs and evidence are to be filed by March 31 and by April 4 for the relators and respondents, respectively. The relators can then file a reply brief by April 7.
“The extremists behind this lawsuit are desperate to prevent Ohioans from going to the polls and voting on the Reproductive Freedom amendment,” said Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio. ”With this new lawsuit, they’re trying to enlist anti-abortion justices on the Ohio Supreme Court to impede the amendment.”
If the Ohio Ballot Board could have split up the proposed amendment into multiple ones, they would have, Levenson said. Instead, the board voted unanimously to approve it was one amendment.
“We have to hope and believe that the Ohio Supreme Court justices, like the ballot board, will perform their duty, uphold the law, and dismiss this baseless case,” Levenson said.
The lawsuit was called “unprecedented and meritless” by a spokesperson for Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, who said those who brought about the lawsuit “are attempting to circumvent the law and the Constitution in a desperate attempt to prevent the people of Ohio from voting on the Reproductive Freedom amendment.” They plan not to be deterred by the lawsuit or what they called the “the multi-million-dollar disinformation campaign being waged by our opponents.”
Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights and its network, Protect Choice Ohio, recently started collecting signatures for the proposed amendment to get it placed on the November ballot.
“The enthusiasm and support we’ve seen has been truly inspiring,” said Dr. Marcela Azevedo of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights. “Our volunteers are eager and excited to gather signatures.” Approximately 2,000 volunteers have been trained by Protect Choice Ohio on how to circulate petitions.
To qualify for the ballot, petitions must contain valid signatures of 413,488 Ohio registered voters. Organizers plan to collect a minimum of 700,000 signatures to ensure they meet that requirement. Petitions must be submitted to the Secretary of State by July 5. Ohio is one of two states in the nation that enables citizens to place an issue on the ballot in odd-numbered years.
In response to these petitions, anti-abortion groups have launched a $5 million ad campaign called Protect Women Ohio to oppose the proposed amendment. Protect Women Ohio recently announced coalition members and campaign hires, including a number of Right to Life groups and religious groups.
“Today’s coalition rollout shows what we have known all along: Ohioans refuse to sit back and watch as the ACLU and Planned Parenthood bring their war on parental rights to our doorstep,” said Molly Smith, board member of Protect Women Ohio. “This extreme and dangerous anti-parent amendment removes existing health protections for women and children and erases parents from the conversation. We won’t let that happen.”
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