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Sherrod Brown focuses on abortion access in Ohio Senate reelection race

Sen. Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, is focusing on abortion rights in his reelection race a month after voters in the state passed a measure to enshrine abortion access in the state's constitution.

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File: Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio and chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, during a hearing in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, June 22, 2023.  Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Brown is hoping to hold onto a key Senate seat that he's held since 2007, despite the former bellwether state's increasing Republican lean in recent years. 

Three major Republican candidates are vying for the chance to unseat Brown, including businessman Bernie Moreno, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Ohio state Sen. Matt Dolan. In campaign texts, Brown has taken aim at all of his Republican opponents over their abortion stance. 

"I have always been clear about where I stand: I support abortion access for all women. I know where my opponents stand, too: All three would overturn the will of Ohioans by voting for a national abortion ban," Brown said in a text sent to Ohio voters on Nov. 16. 

A similar text went out again Saturday. 

Brown's effort underscores Democratic efforts to align the party with pro-abortion rights stances, encouraged by the resonance of the issue itself beyond party lines at the polls. 

Ohio voters backed Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, and the state has a Republican governor and GOP-majority Legislature, yet Issue 1, the ballot measure establishing the right to an abortion, passed in the Buckeye State with 57% support. 

Brown's messaging seeks to capitalize on the passage of Issue 1 just weeks after the vote and one year before his name will appear on the ballot.

"Sherrod has always fought to protect women's reproductive rights and Ohioans know how out-of-step his opponents are with the widely held belief that these are personal decisions that should be between women and their doctors," Brown's campaign manager, Rachel Petri, told CBS News in a statement. 

Ben Kindel, a spokesman for LaRose's campaign, responded to messaging from Brown by claiming that the Ohio senator "will use scare tactics and outright distortions in an attempt to distract from the unmitigated disaster that is the Biden administration." 

"Ohioans know that Joe Biden and Sherrod Brown have wrecked the economy and opened the flood gates at our borders. In November, voters will send them both into retirement," Kindel said. He told CBS News that LaRose will always fight "for the rights of the unborn."

A Moreno campaign official did not comment directly on abortion, and instead pointed CBS News to an article that says the Ohio businessman would support a 15-week national ban. He supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother

Dolan's campaign did not respond to requests for comment. 

The Ohio Senate seat is one of three Democrats are defending that were won by Trump, and it's a critical one for Democrats to hold  to help maintain their slim majority in the upper chamber in 2024. The stakes have only risen with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin's announced departure.

Senate Democrats in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which President Joe Biden won by close margins, are also expected to face tough elections.

The Ohio constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion access is set to go into effect on December 7, as Republican legislators who opposed Issue 1 prepare to fight its implementation.

Almost immediately after its passage, nearly 30 state Republicans signed a letter saying that the constitutional amendment does not repeal any existing Ohio law. The state's supreme court would have the ultimate say in litigation to do so.

A smaller group of Republican state lawmakers have floated removing judicial oversight "to prevent mischief by pro-abortion courts."

Abortion has long been a fraught political issue. But the decision by the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending decades of nationwide abortion protections, galvanized an abortion access movement by Democrats that helped limit their losses in the 2022 midterm elections. 

And with 2024 fast approaching, the issue doesn't appear to be going anywhere. 

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told CBS News in a statement that the issue isn't confined to normal partisan lines. 

"Headed into 2024, we anticipate abortion rights will remain front of mind for voters," McGill Johnson, said. "Given the choice, they will support ballot measures to expand and restore abortion access and elect candidates who will champion their reproductive rights." 

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