Ohio shows that people want abortion to be legal

This should not be news.

Dennis Willard, spokesperson for One Person One Vote, celebrates the results of the election during a watch party Aug. 8, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio voters resoundingly rejected a Republican-backed measure that would have made it more difficult to pass abortion protections. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

(RNS) — Pro-lifers have been playing the blame game since last week, when Ohio voters smacked down a ballot measure cooked up by GOP lawmakers that would have made state constitutional amendments harder to pass in an attempt to facilitate defeat of an abortion rights referendum in November. 

There was some whining about outside expenditures by pro-choice organizations. There was some lamenting that they hadn’t gotten their own messaging right. There was some complaining that trying to change the rules on constitutional amendments was too cute by half. And there was some worrying that perhaps the anti-abortion laws being enacted in GOP-controlled states around the country are a little too extreme.

What there wasn’t was some admitting that Ohioans actually favor abortion rights. Just like Californians, Kansans, Kentuckians, Michiganders, Montanans and Vermonters — all of whom have voted by substantial margins to ensure those rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

And, if the citizens of any other state are given the chance, it’s a safe bet they’ll vote the same way. As of today, according to Pew, 62% of Americans support legal abortion in all or most cases, as compared with 36% who think it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Some might argue that, having lived a half-century under Roe, Americans simply expect abortion to be legal — and that over time that expectation will fade away. But the historical record indicates to the contrary; popular acceptance of abortion dates at least from the middle of the 19th century, when the practice became widespread in American society.

This acceptance persisted even after clergy, the medical establishment and state lawmakers joined forces to ensure passage of laws making abortion illegal. The persistence is not hard to fathom.

The prevalence of miscarriage alone is sufficient grounds for considering an embryo or a fetus to be less of a person than the pregnant woman. The intuitive sense that the woman’s life and health are entitled to greater protection has more force than theological proscriptions, biomedical determinations and legal prohibitions. And that’s to say nothing of the belief that the immorality of rape and incest should permit pregnancies by way of either to be terminated. 

Under the circumstances, it should come as no surprise that, notwithstanding the many strictures against it, abortion is “a universal phenomenon, occurring throughout recorded history and at all levels of societal organization.” That’s not to claim that abortion should therefore be legal, though I plead guilty to holding that view. It’s simply to say that, so long as its legality is to be decided by popular will, the populace will decide in its favor.

Republicans seem to be taking note. What, if anything, they’ll do about it remains to be seen.

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