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Ohio abortion vote this week may ripple to 2024 US election

COLUMBUS – As the clock ticks down on a high-stakes vote in the US state of Ohio, activists are out in force urging voters to decide whether to explicitly enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution.

It is a fraught, emotional issue and passions run high for the Tuesday vote — partly because the decision may prove a bellwether of sentiment on the issue in national elections that are one year away.

Some Ohio residents have been voting in advance for weeks but activists on both sides of the issue are canvassing to the last minute.

On a sunny morning, 27-year-old Summer McLain is about to knock on dozens of doors in Columbus, leaflets in hand. Determined and full of energy, she and her mother Lorie, 61, urge a vote of “yes” to the constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to abortion.

– ‘Sick for whole week’ –

At her window, Idil Petrick, 33, sees the duo pass by.

“What are you guys doing?” she asks curiously.

The mother of five says she doesn’t know about the ballot issue, but the subject of abortion is close to her heart. In the space of a few minutes, she promises to go and vote that very day.

“Because women should have the right if they want to give birth or not,” Petrick tells AFP.

McLain carefully inputs details of the conversation on the mobile app dedicated to the door-to-door operation.

The young woman explains that she became involved when the Supreme Court removed federal protection for abortion rights in the summer of 2022.

“I was physically sick for a whole week,” McLain says. Then came a sense of “rage,” followed by a desire to act. That’s how she recently helped gather the signatures needed to put a proposed amendment to the constitution before voters.

McLain epitomizes the visceral reactions that the Supreme Court’s shock decision provoked.

She grew up in a rural, conservative region of Ohio, and the first time she voted, she gave her vote to Donald Trump.

But it was the former Republican president, now running again to return to the White House in 2024, who appointed ultra-conservative justices to the Supreme Court who overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that had guaranteed the right to abortion for five decades.

McLain never thought it possible to “go back in time on those things,” she laments, her voice choked with emotion. “I thought it was safe.”

Now she considers herself “very liberal, very Democratic” and her goal with the abortion ballot measure is to help “save Ohio.”

– Parental rights –

The resolve is every bit as firm on the other side of the issue, especially since several votes held elsewhere in the country last year consistently reaffirmed abortion rights, even in conservative states.

Hoping to break this trend, the Republican Party and the Catholic Church, among others, mobilized for a “no” vote, sounding the alarm against an “extreme” text.

The proposed Ohio amendment guarantees the right of every woman “to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions” regarding abortion and contraception.

Aaron Baer, president of the Center for Christian Virtue, a group campaigning for public policy that reflects “the truth of the Gospel,” prepares to canvass in neighborhoods elsewhere in Columbus.

The amendment would make Ohio “one of the most liberal states in the nation,” he tells AFP.

But “this is Ohio, for goodness sake. This isn’t California,” he says, referring to the Pacific coastal state with a strong liberal streak.

Opponents of abortion say the amendment would allow minors to terminate their pregnancies without parents’ consent, curbing what they call “parental rights.” They also contend that it would enshrine the right to have an abortion “at any time during the pregnancy,” as Republican Governor Mike DeWine asserted again on Sunday.

Such claims are categorically denied by the opposing side, who denounce “misinformation.”

“I have a lot of problems with the idea of somebody being able to take my daughter to go get an abortion without me ever knowing,” Baer says, adding that he is upset by the possibility of allowing “abortion all the way up to the point of birth when the child can feel pain.”

Amy Natoce, spokeswoman for the anti-abortion coalition Protect Women Ohio, considers it “imperative” that the amendment be defeated.

The text was “intentionally written in a very broad way… that ensures this amendment applies to minors, and it takes away parental consent,” Natoce says.

After a fierce campaign, both camps are anxiously awaiting the voters’ decision. The answer will come on Tuesday.

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