Joseph Naumann, Catholic Bishops Lost in Kansas Abortion Vote

When the votes came in 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 close race turned out surprisingly lopsided: The amendment was resoundingly defeated, 59 percent against 41 percent. .

Analysts were quick to frame the result as a setback for the anti-abortion movement, but activists and pundits say it also amounts to a rejection of the Catholic Church hierarchy, which had shelled out huge sums of money to support passage of the amendment. The vote may also hint at a growing backlash against the church’s involvement in the nation’s abortion debate, especially among Catholics themselves.

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Following the vote, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, who publicly supported passing the amendment, issued a statement Wednesday lamenting its failure.

“We could not 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 clearly report the true nature of the amendment served to advance the cause of the abortion industry. Nauman wrote.

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

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

Kansas nuns oppose state abortion amendment, defy archbishop

It remains to be seen which side raised or spent the most money, though opponents of the amendment also enjoyed significant donations from liberal groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and the American Civil Liberties Union. But these mostly secular groups didn’t shy away from the faith: In an announcement broadcast to Kansans, a woman spoke about her opposition to the amendment from the perspective of a Catholic cradle.

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

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

“The bishops have focused so much on the idol of abortion legislation that they have not stepped back and seen the complication of criminalizing abortion and what that means, especially for vulnerable, non-white, non-rich communities. ”, Imperatori-Lee said. . “If this is what the bishops are going to do, if this were their plan for a ‘post-Roe‘ Then Catholics are going to be very disappointed.”

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

“I don’t apologize one bit for our defense,” he said in an interview.

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

Still, Weber acknowledged that efforts to convey his group’s broader agenda to ordinary Catholics have fallen short.

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

One organization that financially skipped the battle over the Kansas amendment was Catholics for Choice, which advocates for abortion access. The group didn’t spend any money on Kansas in part because, according to frontman Jamie Manson, it wasn’t necessary.

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

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

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The underdog spirit in the Kansas fight was embodied by two Catholic nuns writing a letter against the amendment, published in the run-up to the vote, that amounted to an act of defiance against local bishops.

“A church sign read: ‘Jesus trusted women. So do we,’” the nuns’ letter read. The sisters continued to lament the damage caused by restrictive abortion bans passed in other states, noting that supporters of the amendment primarily focused resources on banning abortion, rather than legislation that would help mothers who give birth to their children, such as “medical care, parental care”. leave, Medicaid and other supports for poor women”.

Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic and former Kansas governor who served as health and human services secretary in the Obama administration, praised the nuns’ letter, calling the sisters “brave.” Whether or not it had a broad impact, Sebelius said, it reminded him of when the nuns came out in favor of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which countered opposition from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. .to the bill and is credited with paving the way. for your final step.

With this week’s vote, “I have no doubt that the statement from the nuns in Kansas made a difference for women who follow what the church has been saying and what they have been promoting, and instead listened to the nuns.” Sebelius said.

The Kansas vote suggests that the bishops, having won a long-awaited Supreme Court victory in overturning Roe vs. Wadethey may now be fighting uphill battles in many states, with uneven support from the grassroots who would rather see them invest church money elsewhere.

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

— Religious news service

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