For an alternate point of view, see “Point: On Abortion Voters are Motivated by Values”
American commentators have become masters at the art of “narrative building.” No matter the situation, no matter the facts, they have a unique ability to take a story and fit it into one of our preconceived notions of how the world works. A quick scroll online will find a finely produced editorial or podcast segment on any issue.
In Ohio, we’ve witnessed this finely tuned skill at work after the August 8 election on Issue 1. This proposed constitutional amendment would have elevated the threshold to amend our state constitution to 60 percent.
The rationale for this proposal was straightforward: Ohio was one of 10 states allowing its constitution to be amended via citizen-initiated petitions with only a 50 percent vote.
This has led to a bloated state constitution packed with special-interest political agendas. The same document that safeguards free speech and religious liberty also has the specific land plots of the location of the “Toledo Hollywood Casino” enshrined essentially forever.
My organization, Center for Christian Virtue, a Christian public-policy organization in Columbus, Ohio, encouraged a “Yes” vote.
Unfortunately, the ballot issued failed: 57 percent voted No, and 43 percent voted Yes.
In the background of this debate was another proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize abortion, up to birth, without the mother’s parents’ consent.
Unsurprisingly, after the loss of Issue 1, the media, including friends on the right, jumped on this as an opportunity to opine about abortion politics. They used this as a microcosm of how the pro-life position is not a winner and is a political drain on the conservative movement.
They tried to claim we lost because of the abortion issue.
Yet, if any of these brilliant commentators had chosen to look at what happened in Ohio, they would have seen a very different, more interesting and important story.
The reality was the debate around elevating the threshold to amend the state constitution to 60 percent is a decades-old debate in Ohio. In fact, five years ago when this proposal was put forward, the resolution was co-sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat.
The fundamental message of the “No” campaign on August 8 had absolutely nothing to do with abortion. The name of the campaign was “One person/One vote.” They ran a very effective, if not manipulative, ad campaign targeted at core Republican and conservative voters, claiming this amendment would “end majority rule” and steal their voice.
In fact, one infamous ad paid for by “Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Freedom” ended with the slogan “Stop the Steal.”
Not “Protect Abortion Rights.” Not “Abortion is Awesome.” But “Stop the Steal.”
The opposition’s most potent ad had a pair of scissors cutting up the U.S. Constitution, with no mention of “reproductive rights” or abortion pills.
In Ohio, to say protecting unborn children and their mothers is a losing issue is nonsensical. Look no further than Gov. Mike DeWine. When DeWine ran in 2018, he boldly promised to sign the CCV-backed Heartbeat Bill to ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected in an unborn child.
At all three debates, the issue came up, and DeWine won and proceeded to sign the life-saving bill.
In 2022, his opponent tried to hang this issue around his neck — and she did very effectively. But instead of being a weight to drag him down, it was more like a gold medal, and DeWine won re-election by more than 40 points, winning 85 out of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Add all this up, and it shows the actual narrative that’s much more Ohio-specific but does have national implications.
The opposition to Issue 1 recognized — and what the political left has correctly identified — is that their positions on critical social issues are so unpopular that they have to use their significant financial advantage to change the topic to win.
You will see this on full display in the coming months in the U.S. Senate. Ohio’s Sherrod Brown is up for re-election and is rehearsing his aw-shucks, union-guy, let’s-grab-a-beer-and-talk-about-the-Browns shtick. In truth, he’s hoping to do everything he can to not face the fact that he votes with Joe Biden 98 percent of the time.
And so it will go with the abortion debate in Ohio. The abortion industry’s only hope to win is if they can effectively downplay or ignore their proposal’s extreme and broad nature and convince Ohioans that this isn’t an attack on parental rights.
Either way, this is a story that has yet to be written, and my encouragement to our national narrative builders is to spend a little less time online and more time understanding American voters.