The Ohio Supreme Court handed a partial victory to the state’s GOP-controlled ballot board on Tuesday, ruling that the term “unborn child” can remain in the ballot language for a November vote on whether to enshrine abortion protections in the state’s constitution.
The ruling comes after Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights and five petitioners sued the board over ballot wording that omitted the term “fetus,” which is used in the full text of the proposed constitutional amendment.
The state Supreme Court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the ballot’s language “introduces an ethical judgment,” saying that it “does not establish that the ballot board’s language constitutes improper persuasion.”
The office of the Secretary of State said they were “pleased” by the court’s ruling.
“By rejecting special interest attempts to substitute their own carefully crafted and poll tested language for that of the ballot board, they have ensured Ohio voters will have a full and accurate understanding of the proposed measure when they go to cast their ballots,” said Mary Cianciolo, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, in an email to NBC News.
The court sided with the petitioners in a narrower aspect of the ballot board’s contested language, agreeing that the language “citizens of the State” was misleading.
The ballot board had approved language to “prohibit the citizens of the State of Ohio from directly or indirectly burdening, penalizing, or prohibiting abortion before an unborn child is determined to be viable.” The court ordered the ballot board “to adopt ballot language that accurately describes that the proposed amendment regulates actions of the ‘State.'”
A spokesperson for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights said in a statement Tuesday that this was another attempt by the ballot board to “mislead voters.”
“Issue 1 is clearly and concisely written to protect Ohioans’ right to make our own personal health care decisions about contraception, pregnancy, and abortion, free from government interference,” Lauren Blauvelt said. “The actual amendment language communicates that right clearly and without distortion.”
Cianciolo said the ballot board would be quickly reconvened to make the “minor change ordered by the court.”
The ruling comes about six weeks before the November election, when Ohioans will vote on a citizen-initiated amendment on whether to protect abortion access up until fetal viability. Last month, Ohioans resoundingly rejected an initiative that would have raised the threshold for adopting a constitutional amendment and made it more difficult to pass abortion protections in November.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in June of last year, abortion-rights advocates in multiple states have been scored victories at the ballot box. In all seven states where abortion has been on the ballot since the high court’s ruling, voters have supported measures protecting abortion rights. In Kansas’ referendum on abortion last year — effectively the first litmus test since the Supreme Court’s decision — voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have stripped away existing protections for reproductive rights in the state.
A ban on abortion six weeks into pregnancy, also known as the “heartbeat” bill, is currently blocked by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who oversees the ballot board, has publicly opposed the abortion rights amendment that will be put to voters in November.
LaRose, who aims to challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown for his seat next year, called the measure a “really radical abortion amendment” in an interview last month with “Meet the Press NOW.”