Ohio voters who went to the polls on Nov. 7 resoundingly approved ballot question “Issue 1,” that ensures access to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care. The victory for pro-choice activists — 57 to 43 percent — was decisive. Seven states across the U.S. have now voted to protect abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and repealed women’s right to bodily autonomy.
The battle for reproductive rights in Ohio was hard fought. The gerrymandered Republican majority in the state legislature first attempted and failed to raise the bar for the number of votes required to pass a ballot question, and then pro-choice activists charged that the wording of the Nov. 7 ballot question was designed in such a way to deliberately confuse voters.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with David Pepper, former chair of the Ohio Democratic party and author. Here he discusses what activists in other states can learn from Ohio’s effective voter education strategies that defeated Republican party dirty tricks, as up to eight other states are expected to hold their own reproductive rights referendums in 2024.
DAVID PEPPER: I think the first lesson is almost every state in America — probably every state — polls show “pro-choice” and you start from that basis. The 57 percent “yes” vote last week perfectly reflects the polls that we’ve seen for years in Ohio, which is that somewhere in the mid- to high-50s, most Ohioans support Roe v Wade, a woman’s right to choose, in this case, reproductive freedom.
So the good news is, know that you’re starting from a point where you’re with the people. And that’s true whether or not it’s a referendum, whether or not you’re a candidate. And I think sometimes Democrats convince themselves that they’re sometimes somehow in the minority.
And in this case and frankly, many others, you know, stand tall and realize, No, most people agree that government should not be getting into these decisions between a woman and her doctor. And they think that in Kansas. They’ll think that in Florida and vote that way. And I think that’s Lesson 1.
Lesson 2, though, is the right knows this as well, they’re not under some illusion that abortion bans, no exceptions are somehow popular. So what you need to prepare for is all sorts of of tactics that are truly anti-democratic.
And in Ohio, we had to overcome and I’m so glad the people did. But we had to overcome so much manipulation. Attempts to change the rules. You know, changing the ballot language. Disinformation. And I think the lesson in the future is — and it worked here, thank goodness — but know that that’s where they’re coming with.
And be ready and make sure you frame this from the very beginning that in these states like ours where you had abortion ban, no exceptions, so that a 10-year-old rape victim was forced to go to Indiana, frame it to make it clear that they’re the extremists here.
We’re simply trying to reflect the majority of our states and the laws they passed in many of these red states — most of them are very extreme. And I think that’s an important part of winning, is that that frame be established very early on and you don’t really ever let it be given up.
At the very end of the election you knew the Republicans were in trouble when they were saying things like, we’ll renegotiate it. Meaning they realized that their law was too extreme. And then when they tried to walk it back, people didn’t believe them. But I think framing it that way — very, very important.
SCOTT HARRIS: The fight for democracy in Ohio is far from over. As I’ve been reading, Ohio’s Republican party is now planning to ignore and obstruct the will of their state’s voters by stripping out state courts from interpreting the abortion rights amendment that just passed, giving Ohio’s gerrymandered Republican legislature’s majority the final say on the authority and the implementation of the ballot question that passed overwhelmingly.
DAVID PEPPER: Here’s the thing that I’ve tried to explain to people. This is who these people are. And it’s not just Ohio. You basically have a generation of officials in many states — you know, Mike Johnson, new Speaker is one of them — whose entire existence in politics, they’ve had no accountability. They are lawless. They are gerrymandered. So they don’t worry about the people back home.
And the current legislature in Ohio is itself in districts that violate the Ohio Constitution. So Ohioans twice reformed our districting process and gerrymandering 70 percent voted twice like they’re threatening do here. They just ignored it and they just gerrymandered anyway. So the problem is these are people who basically gotten away with being lawless for so long that it’s what they do. They don’t even think about it. It’s how they’ve operated. It’s how they get ahead. So that’s the negative.
The positive is I think this, you know, knock on wood, we’re going to make a lot of noise to make sure I’m right. But I think this is so cockamamie, so over-the-top. I mean, this is literally — you don’t even have (Victor) Orban in Hungary doing this.
They may rig how they pick courts, but the idea that they’re going to get rid of the courts — which is the proposal you described it very well — get rid of the court being involved and have the legislature itself determine if its laws are consistent with the Constitution? No, I’ve never seen that anywhere in America. And I think that they are desperate.
But one of the lessons is the further into a corner these people get and I’ve seen this for years, they don’t quit. They get more lawless, they get more aggressive. And that’s what this is. So when they’re very close to losing power, in this case, losing for some of them — the issue they’ve run their whole lives on, yeah, they get increasingly desperate. Dangerous.
But I think in this case, I think we make enough noise on this. And I think my guess is that the other state representatives will say we can’t do that. I mean, that is truly the end of any checks and balances in Ohio.
The courts in Ohio right now are actually somewhat friendly, I’m afraid to say to their side as it is. So I worry about the court itself as it is. But obviously having the legislature review their own work is outrageous and we’ll see where it goes, obviously.
For more information, visit David Pepper’s websites at davidpepper.com and www.laboratoriesofautocracy.com. Subscribe to his substack “David Pepper’s ‘Pepperspectives’” at davidpepper.substack.com. Follow him on Twitter (X) at @DavidPepper.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with David Pepper (21:50) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
For the best listening experience and to never miss an episode, subscribe to Between The Lines on your favorite podcast app or platform: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Tunein+ Alexa, Castbox, Overcast, Podfriend,
iHeartRadio, Castro, Pocket Casts, RSS Feed.
Or subscribe to our Between The Lines and Counterpoint Weekly Summary.