Catholic Dioceses Spent At least $1.7 Million In Ohio To Fight Issue 1. The Church Lost!



Voters who approved Ohio’s Issue 1 dealt a blow to Catholic bishops and activists who mounted an unprecedented campaign to stop abortion from becoming a constitutional right in the state.

The church in Ohio spent more than $1.7 million trying to convince voters to reject the amendment. Priests preached about the evils of abortion. Bishops attended fundraisers and recorded videos declaring the amendment “radical” and “extreme.” Catholics went door-to-door, held vigils, passed out glossy flyers and put extra cash in the collection basket.

They still lost by a 14-point margin, 57%-43%.

Catholics are taught from childhood that abortion is a sin – an “intrinsic evil” that must be opposed without exception – and the church’s campaign against Issue 1 put money and energy behind that message.

Through the end of October, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati alone contributed more than $1 million to the Protect Women Ohio political action committee that led the charge against Issue 1, according to state campaign finance records. The Diocese of Columbus kicked in $500,000 and the Diocese of Cleveland gave another $200,000.

Those totals don’t include separate, undisclosed expenditures by the dioceses themselves for ads, signs and campaign flyers, such as the “Vote NO” mailer the archdiocese sent last week to 125,000 households in 19 counties.

Final campaign spending reports come out Dec. 15.

At a time when some parishes and schools struggle to pay the bills, the church’s investment was significant. The archdiocese’s $1 million contribution to the campaign is roughly what it cost the church to run Catholic Charities last year.

Despite voters’ embrace of Issue 1, Catholic Church leaders say they don’t regret venturing so directly into politics or investing so much in the campaign.

“Your sacrifices prove that the church will never abandon her mission to support human life,” Ohio’s Catholic bishops wrote in an open letter to the faithful Wednesday. “We will persevere in this mission.”

Most Catholics disagree with bishops on abortion

The campaign’s failure exposed a divide between the church’s uncompromising moral and spiritual arguments against abortion and the more nuanced view of most Americans, including millions of Catholics.

Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr called the amendment “horrific,” and said its passage Tuesday is “deeply disturbing.” The bishops, in their letter, repeated their assertion that Issue 1 would harm women, children and families.

“Today is a tragic day,” they wrote.

However, Pew Research Center polls, among others, show that roughly 6 in 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal in some or all cases. Those same polls find Catholics aren’t much different from the rest of the population, with about 56% saying abortion should be legal in some or all cases.

The election results Tuesday tracked close to those numbers, with nearly 57% of Ohioans voting yes for an amendment that guarantees the right to an abortion through fetal viability, or about 24 weeks. After viability, the law allows the state to enact restrictions, with exceptions when necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.

Throughout the campaign, the bishops described those exceptions as radical and the viability threshold as unreasonable. The outcome Tuesday suggests they struggled to win over some Catholics as well as non-Catholics.

An Enquirer analysis of the election results and the U.S. Religion Census, which is not associated with the U.S. Census, found that a majority of voters in several Ohio counties with large Catholic populations voted in favor of Issue 1.

Among the 10 counties with the highest percentage of Catholics, half voted yes on Issue 1, including Geauga and Lake counties in northern Ohio. Hamilton County, with a Catholic population of 21%, backed Issue 1 by one of the widest margins in the state, with 65% voting yes.

Catholics for Choice, which supported Issue 1, complained throughout the campaign about the bishops’ spending to defeat the amendment and attributed its passage to rank-and-file Catholics rejecting their message.

“Tonight’s victory demonstrates just how out of touch Ohio’s bishops are with the lives of those they are called to serve,” said the group’s president, Jamie L. Manson, in a statement Tuesday. “The hierarchy and their radical far-right allies must stop perpetuating stigma and shame.”

Church’s message unlikely to change

What the church will do next in the political arena is an open question. Catholic leaders always have advocated against abortion, and Catholics have been at the forefront of the anti-abortion movement, from the founding of Right to Life more than a half century ago to Catholic justices on the U.S. Supreme Court voting to overturn Roe v. Wade last year.

The bishops have said their role in the Issue 1 campaign was more direct than in the past because abortion was on the ballot for the first time, and they felt compelled to get involved. They were able to do so because federal law allows tax-exempt religious organizations to campaign for or against non-partisan ballot issues.

The church’s teachings on abortion are clear and unchanging, said archdiocese spokeswoman Jennifer Schack. If Catholics understand those teachings and choose to ignore them, they are committing a sin in the eyes of the church.

“The church hasn’t wavered,” Schack said. “It rests on the individual and their own conscience.”

Even in defeat, Schack said, the campaign against Issue 1 served a purpose, reminding Catholics why they fight this fight. “We have had a heroic effort,” she said. “There’s value in the people of the archdiocese and the church coming together strongly to promote life.”

The state’s Catholic bishops offered few clues about whether they now would get behind a new anti-abortion effort, such as a national abortion ban, or step back from their political activism of the past several months. But they made clear their work won’t end with Issue 1.

“The passage of Issue 1,” Schnurr wrote, “shows that there remains a desperate need for conversion of hearts and minds.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Catholic Church spent $1.7 million but lost campaign on Ohio Issue 1

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