Joseph Naumann, Catholic Bishops Lost in Kansas Abortion Vote

When votes came in Tuesday night on a proposed amendment to the Kansas state constitution that would delete the explicit right to abortion, what was expected to be a close race was instead shockingly skewed: The amendment was rejected outright, 59 percent to 41. per cent .

Analysts were quick to view the result as a setback for the anti-abortion movement, but activists and experts say it also amounts to a rejection of the Catholic Church hierarchy, which had distributed huge sums of money in support of the passage. of the amendment. The vote could also indicate growing opposition to the Church’s involvement in the abortion debate in the country, not least among Catholics themselves.

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In the wake of the vote, Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who publicly supported the amendment’s passage, released a statement Wednesday bemoaning its failure.

“We were unable to overcome the millions spent by the abortion industry to mislead Kansans about the amendment, nor the overwhelming bias of the secular press, whose failure to report clearly on the amendment’s true nature served to to advance the cause of the abortion industry. Naumann wrote.

However, the Archdiocese of Naumann and other Catholic organizations also spent millions, representing the largest donor base for the umbrella pro-amendment group known as the “Value Them Both” campaign.

According to financial disclosures and media reports, the Kansas City Archdiocese has spent about $2.45 million on the effort this year, while the Catholic dioceses of Wichita and Salina combined have spent another $600,000 or more. Some individual Catholic parishes across the state joined in, as did the Kansas Catholic Conference, an advocacy group associated with the state’s bishops, which reportedly spent $100,000. Separately, the conservative advocacy group CatholicVote raised about $500,000 for the pro-Amendment Do Right PAC, according to the Flatland news channel.

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It remains to be seen which side raised or spent more money, though opponents of the amendment also enjoyed large donations from liberal groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and the American Civil Liberties Union. But these mostly secular groups did not shy away from the faith: In an ad broadcast to Kansans, a woman spoke of her opposition to the amendment from the perspective of a cradle Catholic.

“When we were Catholic, we didn’t talk about abortion,” the woman says. “But now it’s on the ballot, and we can no longer ignore it.”

According to Natalia Imperatori-Lee, chair of the religious studies division at Manhattan College, the ad probably better reflects the views of the average Catholic than the campaigns funded by bishops. The Church officially rejects abortion, but American Catholics, who generally support legal abortion, have become more liberal on the issue over time: According to a recent PRRI survey, the percentage of white Catholics who believe abortion in all whether most cases should be legal rose from 53 percent in October 2010 to 64 percent in June this year. The shift among Hispanic Catholics was even more dramatic, from 51 percent in 2010 to 75 percent in June.

“The bishops are so focused on the idol of abortion law that they haven’t stepped back and seen the complication of criminalizing abortion and what that means — especially for vulnerable, non-white, non-wealthy communities,” Imperatori said. -Lee. . “If this is what the bishops are going to do, if this was their plan for a ‘post-roeworld, Catholics will be very disappointed.”

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, defended his group’s involvement in the Value Them Both campaign.

“I make no apologies for our advocacy,” he said in an interview.

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Weber lamented the heightened tensions caused by the state’s abortion debate — abortion rights protesters were threatened with arrest and a Catholic church in Overland Park was violated — but pointed out that bishops have lobbied for issues other than abortion in the past. The conference, he said, was one of those pushing state lawmakers this year to expand Medicaid coverage for new moms from two months to 12 months. Weber also suggested that bishops fund campaigns on similar issues if put to the vote, as in the amendment referendum.

Still, Weber acknowledged that attempts to convey his group’s broader agenda to ordinary Catholics have failed.

“I need to do a better job of letting people know that the abortion issue isn’t really the primary point of our advocacy in the State Capitol or in Washington, DC,” he said.

One organization that financially skipped the Kansas change battle was Catholics for Choice, which advocates for abortion access. The group didn’t spend money in Kansas, in part because leader Jamie Manson said it wasn’t necessary.

“Yesterday’s vote in Kansas shows us the power of faithful people who face choice against the power, money and influence of the Catholic hierarchy,” Manson said in a statement.

She added: “I look forward to more David vs. Goliath wins in the future.”

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The underdog spirit in the Kansas struggle was embodied by two Catholic nuns who wrote an anti-amendment letter, published in the run-up to the vote, which amounted to an act of defiance against local bishops.

“A church sign read, ‘Jesus Trusted Women. So are we,” the nuns’ letter read. The sisters further bemoaned the harm caused by restrictive abortion bans passed in other states, noting that supporters of the amendment mainly spent resources on banning abortion, rather than legislation that would help mothers who give birth to children. such as “health care, parental leave, Medicaid and other support for poor women.”

Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic and former governor of Kansas who served as secretary of health and human services under the Obama administration, praised the nuns’ letter and called the sisters “courageous.” Whether or not it had a broad impact, Sebelius said, it reminded her of when nuns voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which refuted the American Conference of Catholic Bishops’ opposition to the bill and paved the way for its last pass.

With this week’s vote: “I have absolutely no doubt that the statement from the Kansas nuns has made a difference to women who follow what the church has said and promoted — and instead listened to the nuns, ” said Sebelius.

The Kansas vote suggests that the bishops, after taking a long-awaited Supreme Court victory overthrowing Roe v. Wadecan now face an uphill battle in many states, with unequal support from a grassroots supporter who would rather see them invest church money elsewhere.

“That money could do a lot of good — diapers and formula,” Imperatori-Lee said.

— Religion news service

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