August 9, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Abortion, Ohio and the Great Reversal that the GOP can’t see

They still misunderstand the public’s complex view on abortion.

The Ohio State House.
The Ohio State House.

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The big news this morning comes out of Ohio, where voters in a special election rejected a proposal that would have made it harder to change the state’s constitution by popular vote. Supporters had hoped to stop a measure in the fall that aims to constitutionally enshrine abortion rights. 

It backfired.

The AP: “Voter opposition to the proposal was widespread, even spreading into traditionally Republican territory. In early returns, support for the measure fell far short of former President Donald Trump’s performance during the 2020 election in nearly every county.”

The Republicans and business groups who had pushed for the referendum said that it would “protect the state’s foundational document from outside interest groups,” according to the AP.

That might have been a convincing argument a year ago, but in the context of Dobbs, which overturned Roe, that argument sank out of sight. Fifty-seven percent of voters in Ohio said nuh-uh. 

If the Republicans weren’t so busy suckling the teat of rightwing media, they might consider modulating their objectives. They can’t stop won’t stop suckling, though. So they can’t stop won’t stop trying to ban abortion.

The referendum’s critics say the vote is another example of the Great Reversal that has happened since a rightwing supermajority on the US Supreme Court immiserated the social standing of half the country, by repealing the national right to abortion, privacy and autonomy.

“The Ohio win again suggests that much of the grassroots energy on cultural issues right now is on the liberal side,” wrote the Post’s Greg Sargent. “The politics are clear: Roe v Wade got Republicans out to vote. Dobbs is getting Democrats out to vote,” wrote anti-Trump Republican and podcaster Joe Walsh. “Trying to ban abortion is every bit as disastrous for Republicans as they wanted us to believe that supporting trans rights is for Democrats,” wrote Ari Drennen, a contributor to Media Matters. “Since Dobbs in June of 2022, Democrats keep overperforming expectations again and again, and Republicans keep underperforming. One side is fired up, governing well, working hard, winning, and the other side keeps losing and will have Trump as their nominee,” wrote Simon Rosenberg, a strategist.

I want to add some points that overlap the above. 

1. The Republicans still seem to think that the “grassroots energy on cultural issues” remains on their side. That’s why we’re seeing, over and over, repeated efforts to completely ban abortion in states like Ohio. If they weren’t so busy suckling the teat of rightwing media, they might consider modulating their objectives. They can’t stop won’t stop suckling, though. The result is serial elections, linked to abortion, that hand them their asses.

2. The Republicans still seem to misunderstand the public’s complex view on abortion, because complexity is whitewashed by a rightwing media that the Republicans can’t stop won’t stop suckling. I’m generalizing here, but I’d guess that most people most of the time probably don’t like abortion, but they nevertheless want it to be safe and legal. Of those who hate it, at least some don’t want the state involved in private affairs. To these folk, Dobbs did not represent a restoration of the rights of states to determine abortion matters on their own. It represents an upheaval of the existing order.


3. The Republicans still seem to deny that two streams of political energy have converged. On the one hand are their obvious opponents, activists who are working to present pro-abortion ballot measures (like in Ohio) to the public. It’s the other hand that the Republicans seem oblivious to – respectable white people who just want things to go back to “normal.” Though decided by justices who are said to be conservative, Dobbs was anything but conservative. It revoked a constitutional right that, since 1973, most people most of the time had come to take for granted. These streams of political energy are coming together in ways they have not in decades.

4. It seems that the Republicans still can’t believe, because they can’t stop won’t stop suckling the teat of rightwing media, that anyone would want things to go back to “normal.” They cannot see this: the more they try to completely ban abortion, the more agitated respectable white people are going to get. They cannot see the subliminal link between Dobbs and Donald Trump, the man most responsible for enabling the Supreme Court to launch its revolution. Both represent social strife. Both represent disorder. It’s not hard to imagine some Ohioans going to the polls to defend the status quo.

There is no going back to the pre-Dobbs era, but that fact does not make the argument for going back any less appealing. And that argument will continue to grow in appeal to most Democrats and some Republicans, I think, as long as Trump is the leader of the GOP.

We are seeing people who are fighting the new normal (Dobbs) joining forces with people who want to go back to “normal.” This merger has the making of a major reaction against 50 years of GOP dominance. 


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Bennett Graff on August 9, 2023 at 5:18 pm

    There is a related issue that should not be glossed over. On the one hand, it seems obvious to state that Americans don’t like having rights taken away. But it isn’t that straightforward. Were that the case, gun rights would be more determinative in election outcomes. They’re not. The problem is the viscerality of the right lost. Many Americans hate seeing the many mass shootings. But not enough, sadly, tread in fear of open spaces or large gatherings to make gun control so determinative in their voting. Abortion rights, however, does strike home harder, not however because so many of us will have to deal with harsh reality of having to make a decision about terminating a pregnancy. Not that many of us will.

    What we will confront more commonly is finding an obstetrician to take care of any pregnancy to begin with. Every story of a “normal” pregnancy gone wrong or, even worse, of an obstetrician leaving their home state is the kind of thing that sends a chill up every person’s back–even that middle-class Christian nationalist who can’t find someone to deliver that child. (And it won’t just affect OBs; midwives, PAs, etc., are affected too).

    The medical brain drain in red states for now is a slow drip in the news cycle. But it’s a drip nonetheless that is unlikely to stop.

    • Avatar photo John Stoehr on August 11, 2023 at 11:34 am

      Excellent points, Bennett, as usual. Thank you. JS

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