Ohio abortion referendum was blow to women, working class

By Jacquie Henderson
December 4, 2023
Militant United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D members struck Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, September 2021, for better work schedules, family time, overtime pay.
MilitantMilitant United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D members struck Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, September 2021, for better work schedules, family time, overtime pay.

CINCINNATI — After a national campaign organized by the Democratic Party, drawing in tens of millions of dollars, an amendment to enshrine the right to abortion in Ohio’s state constitution passed Nov. 7. The campaign had nothing to do with the fight for women’s rights — including the decriminalization of abortion — nor defending working-class interests.

The yes campaign was openly tied to getting President Joseph Biden reelected in 2024. After the vote, Biden declared, “Ohioans and voters across the country rejected attempts by MAGA Republican elected officials to impose extreme abortion bans.” He added, “The only reason abortion is banned in America is because of Donald Trump!”

This is patently false. Prior to the vote, abortion was legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks of pregnancy. After the vote, abortion is legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks of pregnancy. But Democrats mounted a scare campaign, claiming that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling that Roe v. Wade was unconstitutional last year meant that all access to abortion was under dire threat.

In fact the Dobbs ruling made no restriction on abortion, but returned decisions on this issue from unelected judges to state governments. Abortion remains legal in more than 20 states and Washington, D.C. In the year since the Dobbs ruling the number of women having legal abortions rose, as more women found themselves forced to consider ending an unwanted pregnancy as a result of the fact that today’s crisis of capitalism makes it harder and harder for workers to sustain families.

Democrats are already organizing campaigns to get similar amendments adopted in Arizona, Florida and other states. In Ohio they hired an army of volunteers who campaigned for a constitutional guarantee, claiming it was the only way to stop the possibility of future restrictions on abortion access.

Using referendums to change state constitutions this way — to try to prevent the issue from ever being reconsidered — has only one outcome. It makes it harder for working people to try to change any law we oppose by entrenching it in a state constitution and closing down debate. Discussion and debate are vital on all political questions, especially one that involves human life.

Families face growing challenges

By centering their campaigning on abortion, Democrats hope to divert attention from the fact that the Biden administration has done nothing to reverse the broad social disaster working people face. Challenges mount daily in meeting the growing costs of housing, food and transportation, let alone medical care and child care.

Most organizations claiming to speak for women say little about this reality and reduce women’s rights to abortion access, getting more women into professional and managerial jobs and electing Democrats. They present abortion as an issue on its own, not part of the broader fight to advance the interests of women and the working class.

The Republican Party, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, opposed the amendment. It passed with 57% voting in favor.

Yes votes were concentrated in the main cities, including Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Exposing a sharp divide, rural counties overwhelmingly registered no votes.

The victorious referendum does not decriminalize abortion. It leaves it with the same restraints as before, guaranteeing it up to fetal viability, a medical criterion usually determined to be 23 to 24 weeks. After that time a woman’s request to have an abortion will require her physician’s decision.

The Socialist Workers Party called on working people to vote no.

“The SWP champions the decriminalization of abortion as part of the broader fight to advance the rights and lives of women and working people as a whole,” said John Hawkins, the party’s candidate for U.S. Senate from Ohio. “That includes full and equal participation in social and economic life.”

“The crisis of capitalism is making it harder for workers to support families. We need a union-led fight for a government-funded public works program to provide jobs at union-scale pay to build child care centers, housing, public kitchens and schools,” said Hawkins. “And a fight for publicly financed cradle-to-grave medical care.”

“We need contraception that is safe and affordable, and work schedules that allow us time to raise our families, with wages that make this possible.”

The answer to inflation and growing pressures on families is not more abortions, as many Democrats argue. This is a woman’s medical decision. Workers should reject the push to use abortion as a means of contraception. At issue with abortion is a potential human being. Abortion should be a fallback, something that is needed when all else fails.

“This year workers have learned more about how to fight for better conditions, from striking autoworkers, casino workers, bakery and other unionists,” Hawkins said.

The SWP points to the powerful example set by the leadership of Cuba’s socialist revolution.

Fidel Castro led working people to conquer power. Millions of women participated in the defense and advance of the revolution, breaking down barriers to full involvement in economic, social and political life. The revolutionary government organized child care, school and workplace lunch and after-school programs to help overcome the inequality women face. Along the way they decriminalized abortion.

The SWP exists to forge the kind of leadership needed to make that possible in the U.S. and open the door to the final struggle to end women’s subjugation.