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Republicans Must Get Serious About Using Political Power If They Want To Win On Abortion

Ohio Issue 1
Image CreditWTOL11/YouTube

Proposed legislation in the Ohio House would allow the legislature to interpret the recently passed Issue 1 instead of the courts.


It is no secret that Republicans and the pro-life movement lost big in Ohio on Nov. 7. Winning by more than half a million votes, the Issue 1 ballot initiative enshrined the so-called “right” to abortion in the state’s Constitution. Rather than examine how this managed to happen in a state that Donald Trump won by 8 points in 2020 or what role abortion has in the future of the party platform, it is important to address what comes next for Republicans and the pro-life movement in Ohio and nationwide — and most importantly, how they can redeem themselves after this tragic loss.

When the Founding Fathers devised our government, one of their greatest fears about democracy was its tendency to imperil public morality and virtue. Fisher Ames, an early American representative and leader in the Federalist Party, wrote that “the known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and the ignorant believe to be liberty.” Voting majorities do not determine whether an act is right or wrong, and it is clear in this instance that democracy has inclined itself to immorality. Therefore, abortion should have never been on the ballot in the first place.

By opening up the abortion debate to a vote, this initiative pitted swaths of activist Democrats who were energized and ready to mobilize the entire state to defend abortion against Republicans, who were exhausted from losses the last few election cycles and suffered from a low voter turnout.

All of this points to the fact that Republicans can continue to blame their fundraising and ground game and simply “keep trying,” but all this will do is lead them to lose in every state where an abortion initiative is brought up as a ballot referendum. In other words, Republicans must attack the instrument of their defeat: the ballot initiative. Ballot initiatives are a dangerous gamble for Republicans, particularly as the party’s potential voters turn out in fewer numbers and are much less zealously inclined to run to the polls. Similarly, ballot initiatives, which came to prominence during the Progressive Era, are inherently subversive to the republican process, allowing the masses, the worst excesses of democracy, to override the established political system and their representatives. Today, instead of allowing Democrats to vote on rewrites of state constitutions, Republicans must actually stand up and govern.

With this in mind, a group of Ohio lawmakers have proposed a novel idea: remove the power of courts to interpret the new constitutional amendment and instead turn it over to the state legislature. The lawmakers’ proposal highlights the amendment’s deceptive and vague language and argues that the passage of Issue 1 does not explicitly repeal any state laws protecting life. Titled the “Issue 1 Implementation Act,” the bill would remove Ohio courts’ jurisdiction over Issue 1 and turn it over exclusively to the state legislature. The bill states that any litigation regarding Issue 1 be automatically dismissed by state courts and makes it a misdemeanor for a judge to do otherwise.

This is what Republicans should have been doing all along. Republicans supporting this bill are exercising their political power in a way that is conducive to protecting life. Instead of accepting Democrats’ victory, these Republicans are proving themselves to be worthy of the real political fight that lies in front of them, that is, not electoral procedures, but protecting human life. Any Republican who simply walks away in defeat after Nov. 7 deserves to have his pro-life bona fides seriously questioned.

Further, if Republicans allowed this question to be left up to the courts, they would be accepting defeat. Republicans often assume that courts, particularly conservative or “originalist” ones, are their savior from leftist excesses. But we have seen that no matter how “conservative” a court may appear, it will often side in favor of the preferred liberal policy. A prominent example is the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County when nominally conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch penned the court’s majority opinion explaining why it ruled in favor of incorporating protections for individuals who identify as transgender into the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

An invigorated and strong Republican Party will not put its fate in the hands of an unreliable judiciary but actively seek what is true and good on its own terms. As Rep. Beth Lear, R-Galena, said, “No amendment can overturn the God-given rights with which we were born.” And indeed, she is right; it’s time for Republicans to wield political power and prevent this from happening.

At the end of the day, if Democrats could implement this plan in their favor, they would. For them, it is not about democracy but their commitment to abortion. And even though the amendment passed, the fight is far from over. Instead, Republicans must redeem themselves from their failure on abortion by substantially working against the amendment, which means handing over the power to enforce it to those who have an interest in protecting the unborn.

By removing the jurisdiction of the courts over the matter, Republicans offer themselves — and, most importantly, the unborn — a fighting chance for life. Both chambers of the Ohio Legislature are overwhelmingly Republican, so moving jurisdiction over abortion to the state legislature creates a greater opportunity for interpreting and implementing the amendment in the most pro-life way possible. By the very nature of their positions, legislators are emboldened to take decisive action; they are not bound by legal philosophies that inhibit decision-making.

A party unwilling to take political risks for the sake of doing the right thing is unlikely to be effective in any other endeavor. Republicans need to move forward with a strong but calculated approach to abortion and the new amendment. There is considerable risk, as this is no simple feat, but it is beyond time for Republicans to match the Democrats’ vigor when fighting for what they want. Inevitably, adversaries of the proposed legislation will accuse elected Republicans of disregarding the majority’s decision to enshrine abortion in the state constitution. But this is nothing new, and data shows that Ohio voters overwhelmingly oppose these radical abortion measures.

A willingness to halt the implementation of this constitutional amendment in its tracks would be an exceptional first step in playing offense on abortion with the use of legislative power. Republicans must give these lawmakers their full support and show the party at large that the political will is to fight to defend life on a legislative level, not an electoral one.

While winning over hearts and minds on the issue of abortion will always be important, it is no substitute for total electoral, judicial, and legislative victory. Life should have won at the ballot box in Ohio, but it did not. Therefore, Republicans in Ohio and across the country must reevaluate not only how they engage with elections but, most importantly, how they govern.

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