American voters have been divided for years over how long into a pregancy it could be legally terminated, if at all, however state of Ohio voted to add abortion rights to its constitution on Tuesday, meaning that the legislature cannot now prohibit abortion.
Early vote counts showed almost 56% of voters in the conservative-leaning state had backed it and although the count was not over, CBS News projected a decisive victory for the amendment.
The measure follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn the 1972 Roe v. Wade decision that had protected abortion rights.
Ohio was one of several states where an abortion ban went into effect as a result of the court’s decision.
For the most part in the US, Republicans oppose abortion and Democrates favor ‘freedom of choice’, in other words legal abortion. The success of this vote gives hope to Democrats that they might be able to win seats in the largely conservative state in the presidential election one year hence.
It also extends an unbeaten record for ballot measures designed to protect abortion rights since the nationwide right to the procedure was rescinded by the Supreme Court last year. This is the seventh such measure to pass, whereas no referendum to ban abortions has yet won when the issue was put to the state’s voters.
Before Ohio, voters in several other states, including California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont, adopted initiatives to protect abortion access following the Supreme Court ruling last year.
In Kentucky, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear won re-election Tuesday after a campaign that included advocating for exceptions to the state’s near-total abortion ban.
But Ohio’s measure, known as Issue 1, was widely seen as the toughest fight so far for abortion rights supporters as it was the first Republican-led state to consider changing its constitution to explicitly guarantee the right to terminate pregancies.
Supporters of the amendment warned voters that unless it passed, more restrictive laws could be introduced including a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions.
Abortion is currently legal in Ohio until 22 weeks of pregnancy.
Those who campaigned against the measure, however, argued that it would allow late term abortions that are currently illegal.
As votes were still being counted into the early hours, there were emotional celebrations from pro-choice supporters as US media projected the constitutional amendment would pass.
“This is one of the greatest moments of my life, working so hard with my team beside me to achieve reproductive rights and freedoms in Ohio,” Kate Gillie told the BBC at one watch party.
“We’ve got two little girls and this is about their future and their reproductive rights,” another person at the party, Frank Tedeschi, said.
One of the leading groups that opposed the amendment, Protect Women Ohio, has reportedly raised almost $10m (£8.1m) since September.
In a statement, the group said: “Our hearts are broken tonight not because we lost an election, but because Ohio families, women and children will bear the brunt of this vote.”
“We stand ready during this unthinkable time to advocate for women and the unborn,” it added.
The amendment will change the state’s constitution to include protections for abortion access. It will establish “an individual right to one’s own reproductive medical treatment”, including on abortion, contraception and miscarriage care.
It explicitly prohibits the state from “directly or indirectly burdening, penalising or prohibiting abortion” before viability, which is generally considered to be around 23 weeks of pregnancy.
The amendment does allows the state to bar abortion after the point of viability except in instances where the patient’s doctor determines the procedure is needed to protect life or health.
Opponents of the measure have expressed concern over this element, telling voters it would allow for “late-term abortions” – a non-medical term referring to abortions later in pregnancy.
But supporters of Issue 1 argued that any abortions later in pregnancy would require sign-off from a medical professional attesting to serious health concerns.
Ohio Republicans, who control the legislature and governorship, hinted they would introduce new ballot measures around abortion in response.
Jason Stephens, the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, promised his supporters that there are “multiple paths we will explore to continue to protect innocent life”.
Tuesday’s result offers clues about voters’ views on abortion more than a year after Roe was overturned.
Democrats, including President Joe Biden, will hope the issue continues to energise voters ahead of next year’s elections.
“Ohioans and voters across the country rejected attempts by MAGA Republican elected officials to impose extreme abortion bans,” Mr Biden said in a statement on Tuesday night.
Two other elections on Tuesday, one in Kentucky, the other in Virginia, will also impact abortion access in the months ahead.
In the southern state of Kentucky, the re-election of Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, who ran ads attacking his opponent on his strict anti-abortion stance, is being considered a win for activists fighting to maintain abortion access in the state.
And in Virginia, Democrats – who campaigned against Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s push to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy – won control of both legislative chambers.
The results in Ohio are also being watched in Arizona and Missouri, states that are both considering including similar ballot measures next year.
Abortion law in St. Kitts is covered by The Infant Life (Preservation) Act, which was adapted from the British Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, permits abortion at any stage of pregnancy so long as the procedure is performed “in good faith for the purpose only of preserving the life of the mother”. It also permits abortion in cases of rape as giving birth would be regarded as detrimental to the health of the mother.
Sources: BBC, CNN, VOA.