“A five-alarm fire for the pro-life movement.”

That was the response of conservative political analyst Patrick T. Brown last week to the defeat in Ohio of an attempt by Republican lawmakers to make it unusually hard to amend the state constitution – an attempt timed to thwart a November ballot measure on the right to abortion.

Brown’s assessment is spot on. The resounding outcome in Ohio is the latest in a string of developments nationally that crystallizes an uncomfortable reality for anti-abortion campaigners and candidates: Support for access to abortion is a winning issue at the polls.

In the six times the abortion question has been directly voted on at the state level since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade (the Dobbs decision), anti-abortion positions have lost each time. Kansas, Kentucky and Montana rejected measures that would remove the guarantee of the constitutional right or otherwise place restrictions on abortion. California, Michigan and Vermont each passed state constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to abortion.

Ohio Republicans, presumably reading the room, decided to go about the vote another way, a cynical way, instead going after the ballot initiative process and thus the voter’s ability to decide. Despite taking place more than a year after the initial heat generated by the Dobbs ruling, and despite the measure itself not pertaining directly to abortion legislation, Ohio voters bucked the trend for August turnout and overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

Many of the 57% of voters who opposed the measure last week were rightly unimpressed with the terms and conditions of the special election, using words like “underhanded” and “sneaky” to describe it. In a statement after the vote, President Biden called it “a blatant attempt to weaken voters’ voices and further erode the freedom of women.”


The Associated Press characterized the result as “a rare rebuke for Ohio Republicans, who have held power across every branch of state government for 12 years.”

Where rebukes like these tie into the abortion question, they’re becoming a lot less rare. That’s a good thing.

Last week here in Maine, anti-abortion legislators and activists seemed to have done some reading of the room, too. The Christian Civic League of Maine and a group named Speak Up For Life founded by Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, decided against applying for petitions to block Gov. Mills’ legislation to expand access to abortions post-viability.

The groups said Wednesday that instead of a referendum effort they would channel their energy into getting anti-abortion lawmakers elected in Maine in 2024 and beyond. In order to be elected in the first place, those lawmakers will probably have to downplay their mission on the campaign trail.

We’ve seen time and again that conservative voters, on some questions, are not nearly as conservative as their elected representatives. Abortion is now very clearly one of those questions.

There are other contemporary realities nipping at the heels of the Republican Party and the anti-abortion movement. “Shield laws” passed by Democratic legislatures allow the mailing of abortion pills to red states, a workaround pipeline which is up and running after just two months. According to a report by The Washington Post last month, a group of doctors has mailed 3,500 doses of abortion pills to people in states with restrictions or bans on abortion and is “on track to help facilitate at least 42,000 abortions in restricted states over the next year.”

Competing ideologies and rules, state to state, have accelerated the seismic shift on the acceptability of abortion to the general public. Voters appear to be less taken in by the often-inflammatory anti-abortion message and increasingly preoccupied with the personal, the rational and – particularly when it comes to the persistent matter of interstate travel and medication abortion by mail – the fluctuating day-to-day realities of the post-Roe age.

This is not to say that those of us who wish to support or defend abortion access can get complacent; the chicanery of the Ohio vote last week is but one example of the extent to which anti-abortion legislators are willing to ignore public opinion and bend things to their will. In Montana this year, Republican legislators went on to pass an abortion restriction very similar to the one rejected by a majority of voters last November. Voters who support the right to abortion must remain vigilant.

Anti-abortion legislators, meanwhile, owe it to their constituents to meet them where they are, not to try to squeeze them out of the picture. If that proves an impossibility, all evidence suggests that the electoral blows will keep coming.

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