Abortion in Ohio, Part 3: District Maps and Ballot Seats Continue to Shape Abortion Laws

“I think a realistic person would say there is almost no constituency in Ohio for an abortion ban, and yet that is by far the most likely policy outcome we’re looking at."

Jun 29, 2022 at 5:11 pm
click to enlarge Abortion advocates gather in Cincinnati in May 2022. - Photo: Mary LeBus
Photo: Mary LeBus
Abortion advocates gather in Cincinnati in May 2022.

This story is part of CityBeat's and Cleveland Scene's feature package about what the June 24 reversal of Roe v. Wade means in Ohio. Read more stories in our abortion series.

As noted earlier in this series, many Ohioans and most Americans want abortion care to remain in place. But the likelihood of an all-out ban on procedures in the Buckeye State is practically certain as Ohio lawmakers consider next steps after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Here, conservative political games will enable that to happen.

The push by Ohio Republicans to ban the procedure has been almost effortless. A statewide ban on abortion care after six weeks gestation already has gone into effect since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe. Two “trigger” bills outlawing abortion care (except in vaguely outlined emergency cases) also are poised to pass.

“I think a realistic person would say there is almost no constituency in Ohio for an abortion ban, and yet that is by far the most likely policy outcome we’re looking at,” says David Niven, a University of Cincinnati political science professor who researches gerrymandering and has testified as an expert witness in court cases on the subject.

“There’s only one reason why Ohio has a legislature to the right of Mississippi, and that’s because the maps were drawn to make it that way,” he says. “The maps we’ve been living under for the last 10 years are roughly the second-most gerrymandered in the country.”

Ohioans will pick new state lawmakers on Aug. 2 using district maps that the Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected as unconstitutional for unfairly favoring Republicans. Niven says the U.S. Supreme Court is shifting the decision on abortion care to the states without considering how redistricting is moving policy outcomes away from what voters actually want.

“I don’t think ‘Catch-22’ is a strong enough phrase,” Niven says.

Nonetheless, the rejected, unconstitutional maps are expected to stay in place for the November general election, when voters will decide who sits in the governor’s seat. Democrat Nan Whaley, who is facing off against Republican incumbent Mike DeWine, says there is a lot she would be able do as governor to resist a ban on abortion care.

“The governor’s office in Ohio is about the fourth-most powerful in the country, not only because of line items, but because of appointments and the work they can do on access around public health. There’s no singular position more powerful, regardless of what the legislature does, than the governor’s seat for this issue,” Whaley says.

In order to stop the passage of a ban, Whaley would need real veto power, which is something a Republican-packed House and Senate would prevent. The Ohio Senate is made up of 25 Republicans and eight Democrats, with 17 seats on the upcoming ballot. Currently, there are 64 Republicans in the Ohio House and 35 Democrats. While all their seats are on the ballot, the odds of Democrats taking enough new seats to prevent a three-fifths vote overruling a Whaley veto is slim, Niven says.

“Democrats are not going to come close to a majority. The best case scenario is they win enough votes to stop the legislature from overriding a theoretical Nan Whaley veto. But the odds don’t really favor that as an outcome,” Niven says.

There are additional offices on the ballot beyond the legislature that could affect the way a ban on abortion care is felt in Ohio.

Rep. Jeff Crossman is challenging incumbent Dave Yost for Ohio’s attorney general position. He says that in order to give Democrats a chance at districts in a way that would be constitutional under the Ohio Supreme Court — and, in turn, give them a shot at influencing or preserving abortion care access — the attorney general needs to hold the redistricting commission’s feet to the fire. Crossman filed a criminal dereliction of duty complaint against the Republican-led commission on May 26, a lead he wants Yost to follow.

“The attorney general should be joining in saying these folks are acting in contempt, because that’s exactly what’s happening,” Crossman says. “We’re being ruled, not governed.” (Yost did not respond to our requests for comment).

No matter what district maps are or aren’t in place for Ohio — or even if they continue to be deemed unconstitutional — the special election to vote on the legislature is scheduled for Aug. 2. The deadline to register to vote in the special election is July 5. The deadline to register for the November general election is Oct. 11.

With Roe now reversed, CityBeat is exploring what comes next for Ohioans seeking abortion resources and reproductive care. Click below to read our in-depth stories about each topic.
Editor’s note: Some of the people and organizations quoted in this feature frame their abortion language around “women,” meaning a sex assigned at birth. But transgender men, intersex individuals, non-binary individuals and agender individuals also receive abortion care. We will continue to explore abortion issues that affect all individuals in future stories.

This feature is a collaborative effort by reporters and editors at CityBeat in Cincinnati and Cleveland Scene in Cleveland, including Sam Allard, Allison Babka, Madeline Fening, Vince Grzegorek, Gennifer Harding-Gosnell, Maggy McDonel, Ashley Moor and Maija Zummo.

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