A New Future for Reproductive Rights: Ohio's Critical Elections - Alliance for Justice

A New Future for Reproductive Rights: Ohio’s Critical Elections


Leslie Barnes, Nadia Watson



Reproductive Rights

Ohio voters will have two critical opportunities this year to restore reproductive freedom and safeguard democracy. First, on August 8th, we urge those who stand for reproductive freedom and democracy to #VoteNoInAugust on Issue 1 in a Special Election designed to erect barriers to direct democracy. (Find detailed information here and here). Then, on November 7th, voters will have the opportunity to vote “yes” on a constitutional amendment that protects Ohioans’ right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, encompassing contraception, fertility care, and crucially, access to abortion.  

Exactly one year after the US Supreme Court gutted the right to abortion care, we embark on a collective and enduring journey to restore and expand access to safe abortions. Comprised of Ohio residents, community groups are diligently working to ensure that all Ohioans can exercise their reproductive rights to the fullest extent. Together, they have united forces to pursue a citizen-led ballot initiative, aiming to amend Ohio’s Constitution this Fall. Whether you represent a foundation, another nonprofit organization, or are an individual, your support is invaluable in advancing their efforts. 

What’s at Stake 

Regardless of our political affiliations, gender, or stage in life, the impact of what unfolds in Ohio affects us all. Let’s dive into two stories that illustrate this truth. 

Meet Christina, who was on her way to a family wedding in Ohio when she experienced a heartbreaking miscarriage during her first pregnancy in November 2022. After two days of intense bleeding, she sought emergency hospital care. Shockingly, the Ohio hospital initially discharged her without providing the life-saving procedure she desperately needed—a dilation and curettage (D&C). The consequences of providing such treatment could have resulted in fines, felony charges, imprisonment, and the loss of medical license for the doctors involved. Christina’s urgent need for a procedure vital to addressing her emergency miscarriage was almost denied, because it is the very same treatment often utilized in abortion cases. 

Now consider Ohio residents, Beth and Kyle, who also faced the deadly reality of Ohio’s restrictive laws. After enduring four years of painful and costly fertility treatments, Beth and Kyle went from elated to heartbroken when they learned that the fetus Beth finally conceived would not survive and could prove deadly if the pregnancy continued. Beth, a dedicated breast cancer nurse in Ohio’s public hospital system, could not access the lifesaving care she desperately needed in the state. Ultimately, after three weeks of navigating Ohio’s restrictive laws, Beth had no choice but to seek the care she required out-of-state. 

For far too long, the accessibility of reproductive care has remained an unattainable dream for many individuals. Legislators lacking both the medical expertise and a mandate from the majority of their constituents have further limited the options available to those in need. Whether it’s confronting a medical emergency or facing an unexpected pregnancy, the fundamental rights of safe, affordable, and accessible healthcare, as well as the right to bodily autonomy, hang in the balance for each one of us. 

Public Charities Can Support Ballot Initiatives 

Tax-exempt organizations, commonly known as nonprofits, are allowed to engage in ballot measure advocacy. Expressing a view on a specific initiative to the electorate is considered direct lobbying. Public charities, labor organizations, social welfare groups, and trade associations can lobby. Private foundations should not lobby or earmark grant funds for lobbying, but they can engage in non-lobbying advocacy by convening advocacy groups and providing funding to nonprofits that support the ballot initiative. To address the legal concerns faced by nonprofits and foundations involved in ballot initiative work, our “Seize the Initiative” resource provides insightful answers.  

501(c)(3) Public Charities can play a vital role in this critical example of direct democracy, shaping policy by supporting or opposing ballot initiatives. Also known as “ballot measures,” “referenda,” “bond measures,” or simply “initiatives,” ballot initiatives present voters with questions about their stance on new or amended laws and constitutional amendments. While some initiatives coincide with regular candidate elections, others take place during special elections that are separate from candidate-related proceedings. 

It is important to note that 501(c)(3)s must keep their activities “nonpartisan,” which simply means they should refrain from aligning their advocacy with candidates for public office or intervening in the outcome of a candidate election. However, ballot initiatives themselves do not fall under the category of candidate elections, so public charities can support or oppose measures in a nonpartisan way.  

Additionally, nonprofits that support or oppose measures must comply with a state’s campaign finance laws, generally if they raise or spend money over a certain threshold. This allows public charities to form, join, or contribute to ballot initiative committees, often referred to as political action committees (PACs). In Ohio, if a nonprofit supports or opposes a ballot measure on their own or in coordination with a ballot measure committee, they may need to report their expenditures to the state (see Ohio Campaign Finance Handbook).

Ohio’s Reproductive Rights Champions 

A coalition of allied health providers and local community organizations have joined together to support Ohio’s ballot initiative in November and defeat Issue #1 in August. Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom is a collective of reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations. Comprised of Ohioans, these nonprofits have decades of deep-rooted investment in Ohio communities. Another formidable force, Protect Ohio Choice is likewise made up of nonpartisan, grassroots community members comprised of Ohio allied health providers, businesses, and individuals. 

These Ohio health care champions are following in the footsteps of community nonprofits in other states. Voters in six (6) states have already made their voices heard by voting to protect individuals’ right to bodily autonomy related to abortion. Ohio’s reproductive rights’ champions draw inspiration from these successful endeavors, paving the way for progress and change within their own state. 

Ways for Nonprofits to Support Reproductive Rights 

There are several avenues for nonprofits to actively support reproductive rights. While nonprofits are required to align their actions with their tax-exempt mission, it is important to note that mission statements can be amended to encompass a broader scope, including the realms of healthcare, reproductive rights, and justice. Many nonprofit missions naturally intersect with these crucial areas, providing opportunities for organizations to actively contribute to the cause. 

  • Endorse the Ohio ballot measure if you’re not a private foundation 
  • Challenge state abortion bans in the courts 
  • Support ballot measures protecting a right to abortion
  • Support healthcare providers and share abortion stories
  • Invest in leadership development among grassroots organizations working to support reproductive justice 
  • Engage in regulatory advocacy, such as celebrating the FDA’s recent decision to permit over-the- counter oral contraception 
  • Advocate for gender-affirming care 
  • Join sign-on letters or engage in press outreach to mobilize voters
  • Lift up and participate in action alerts of partner organizations 
  • Join coalitions to maximize efforts aimed at protecting access to abortion 
  • Make grants to reproductive justice organizations  
  • Educate candidates and elected officials 

Strategize, Organize, & Mobilize 

The journey to overturn Roe v. Wade spanned decades, illustrating the perseverance required to bring about significant change. Similarly, the path to restore and broaden access to reproductive healthcare demands our time, dedication, and financial support. Every vote cast in both of Ohio’s upcoming elections holds immense importance. The outcome of the August 8th special election has the potential to erode voters’ ability to safeguard reproductive rights in the subsequent November 7th Election. Therefore, active participation in these crucial moments is essential to protect and advance reproductive healthcare access for all. 

If you have questions about nonprofits’ ability to engage in ballot initiatives, you can access Bolder Advocacy’s free technical assistance by completing this form, emailing advocacy@afj.org, or calling 866-NP-LOBBY.