Joseph Naumann, Kansas Catholic Bishops Lost Abortion Vote

When votes were cast on Tuesday night on a proposed amendment to the Kansas state constitution that would remove the explicit right to abortion, what was expected to be a shockingly unbalanced narrow race was: the amendment was defeated outright, 59 percent to 41 percent.

Analysts were quick to frame the result as a setback for the anti-abortion movement, but activists and experts say it also amounts to a rejection of the Catholic hierarchy, which has paid huge sums to support the amendment’s passage. The vote, too, may hint at an escalating backlash against the Church’s involvement in the country’s abortion debate — not least among Catholics themselves.

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In the wake of the vote, Archbishop Joseph Neumann of Kansas City, who publicly supported the amendment’s passage, issued a statement Wednesday regretting the amendment’s failure.

“Neither could we overcome the millions the abortion industry spent to mislead Kansans about the amendment, nor the overwhelming bias of the secular press whose failure to communicate clearly the true nature of the amendment bolstered the cause of the abortion industry,” Neumann wrote.

Numan Archdiocese and other Catholic organizations have also spent millions, though, representing the largest single donor base for the blanket pro-amendment group known as the Equal Value campaign.

According to financial disclosures and media reports, the Archdiocese of Kansas City has spent nearly $2.45 million on the effort this year, with the Archdiocese of Wichita and Salina together spending an additional $600,000 or more. Some individual Catholic parishes across the state stepped in, as did the Kansas Catholic Conference, an advocacy group linked to the state’s bishops, which reportedly spent $100,000. Separately, conservative advocacy group CatholicVote raised about $500,000 for the pro-amendment Do Right PAC, according to news outlet Flatland.

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It remains to be seen which side raised or spent more money, although opponents of the amendment also enjoyed large donations from liberal groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and the American Civil Liberities Union. But these mostly secular groups weren’t ashamed of the faith: In one ad broadcast to Kansans, a woman spoke of her opposition to the Amendment from a Catholic perspective.

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

According to Natalia Imperatori-Lee, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Manhattan College, the announcement likely represented the views of ordinary Catholics better than campaigns funded by bishops. The Church makes an official ruling on abortion, but American Catholics, who generally support legal abortion, have become more liberal on the issue over time: According to a recent survey by the Republishing Human Rights Initiative, the percentage of white Catholics who believe that abortion should be legal in all or most of it. It jumped from 53 percent in October 2010 to 64 percent by June of this year. The shift among Latin Catholics has been more dramatic, from 51 percent in 2010 to 75 percent in June.

“Bishops have been so focused on legalizing abortion that they have failed to step back and see the complexity of criminalizing abortion and what that means — especially for weak, non-white, and not wealthy communities,” Imperatore Lee said. . “If this is what the bishops will do, if this is their plan” for the post-Ro“The world, Catholics will be very disappointed.”

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

“I don’t apologize even the slightest bit for inviting us,” he said in an interview.

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Webber lamented the growing tensions sparked by the abortion controversy in the state — abortion rights protesters have been threatened with arrest, and a Catholic church in Overland Park has been defamed — but noted that bishops have lobbied for issues other than abortion in the past. He said the convention was among those pushing state lawmakers this year to expand Medicaid coverage for new mothers from two months to 12 months. Weber also suggested that bishops fund campaigns on similar issues if they were put to a vote, such as in an amendment referendum.

However, Weber conceded that efforts to convey his group’s broader agenda to mainstream Catholics had been unsuccessful.

“I need to do a better job of letting people know that the abortion issue is not really the main point of our advocacy in the state capitol or in Washington, DC,” he said.

One organization that financially surmounted the Battle of the Kansas Amendment was Catholics for Choice, which advocates access to abortion. The group did not spend the money in Kansas in part because, according to leader Jimmy Manson, they did not need to.

“Yesterday’s vote in Kansas demonstrates the strength of the pro-choice faith when faced with the power, money and influence of the Catholic hierarchy,” Manson said in a statement.

She added, “I’m looking forward to more David vs. Goliath victories ahead of us.”

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The underdog spirit of the Battle of Kansas was embodied by two Catholic nuns who wrote an anti-amendment letter, published in the run-up to the vote, that was a challenge to the local bishops.

The church sign says, ‘Jesus trusted women. We do too,” the nuns wrote in the letter. The sisters continued to lament the harm caused by the restrictive abortion bans passed in other states and noted that proponents of the amendment focused primarily on abortion-related resources, rather than legislation that would help mothers who having children, such as “health care, parental leave, Medicaid, and other forms of support for poor women.”

Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic and former Kansas governor who served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration, praised the nuns’ message and called the sisters “courageous.” Sibelius said that whether or not he had a broad impact, he mentioned it when the nuns spoke out in favor of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which faced opposition from the American Conference of Catholic Bishops to the bill and was credited with paving the way for its final passage.

With this week’s vote, “I have absolutely no doubt that the nuns’ statement in Kansas has made a difference for the women who follow what the church says and what they are promoting — and listen to the nuns instead,” Sibelius said.

The Kansas vote indicates that the bishops, having achieved a long-awaited victory in the Supreme Court by repealing ru vs. valleymay now be fighting uphill battles in many states, with unequal support from rank and file who would rather see them invest church money elsewhere.

“This money can be very useful – diapers and alternative,” Imperatore told me.

– Religion News Service

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