Bishops Denounce Catholics for Choice Campaign Against Colorado Personhood Measure

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Bishops Denounce Catholics for Choice Campaign Against Colorado Personhood Measure

Jason Salzman

Colorado’s bishops, speaking through the Colorado Catholic Conference, say they've taken a “neutral” stance on Colorado’s "personhood" amendment. But they've backed church activity supporting the amendment and are criticizing a campaign against the measure by Catholics for Choice, which claims the bishops have tacitly backed Amendment 67.

Read more of our articles on Amendment 67 here.

Catholic bishops in Colorado have denounced a media campaign against Amendment 67 by the pro-choice group Catholics for Choice, claiming it misrepresents “what the Church believes and teaches.”

Catholics for Choice’s newspaper and radio ads, appearing statewide, feature Colorado Catholics explaining why they’re voting against Amendment 67, which would ban abortion by expanding the definition of a “person” in Colorado’s criminal code to include “unborn human beings.”

In a statement responding to a Catholics for Choice news release, titled “Colorado Catholics: the Bishops Don’t Speak for Us,” the Colorado Catholic Conference, which represents Colorado’s three bishops, asserted that Catholics for Choice “does not speak for the Catholic Church.”

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The Colorado Catholic Conference “speaks on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Colorado concerning issues of public policy and legislation,” Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, told Rewire via email.

Catholics for Choice is a national organization that challenges the “Vatican on matters related to sex, marriage, family life and motherhood.”

The conference’s statement accused Catholics for Choice of assuming that the “Church in Colorado supports Amendment 67, when in fact it has maintained a neutral stance.”

Catholic Bishops in Colorado declined to support openly not only on this year’s state “personhood” measures but also Colorado’s failed “personhood” efforts in 2008 and 2010.

“Since the ballot-signature campaign began, bishops have allowed local parishes and congregations to be involved in the signature drive and other organizing efforts, lawn signs, pleas to fill out their ballots,” Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, director of the domestic program at Catholics for Choice, told Rewire. They may not have made a declarative statement on which side they are on, but they have certainly not remained neutral.

“The bottom line is that the Catholic hierarchy has not declared when personhood begins, and because of that, it’s hard for them to take a direct stand on a ballot question like this. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t helping,” added Hutchinson Ratcliffe.

“Laws like Amendment 67 are based on one narrow belief about when life begins and imposes that belief on everyone,” Hutchinson Ratcliffe said further, in a statement. “This is anathema to our Catholic traditions of respect for conscience, social justice and religious freedom.”

The Colorado Catholic Conference responded directly to Hutchinson Ratcliffe’s statement in its news release. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” it said. “Colorado’s Bishops, like all Catholic bishops for 2,000 years, have steadfastly proclaimed that respect for all human life at every stage is foundational to the Catholic faith. Abortion from the earliest tradition of the Church has been considered immoral.”

“When it comes to statistics, Catholics for Choice only chooses those findings that agree with their dissent from Church teaching,” said Colorado Catholic Conference’s statement, citing Catholics for Choice’s claims that “14 [percent] of Catholics believe that abortion is morally wrong” and “99 [percent] of Catholic women use birth control.”

The bishops’ statement cited a 2013 Pew survey stating that 53 percent of U.S. Catholics view abortion as “morally wrong.” And it pointed to criticism of the 99 percent figure, which Catholics for Choice derived from government information, as misleading.

“It is our hope that one day Catholics for Choice will take the time to acquaint themselves with basic Catholic teachings, and acknowledge the truth of the Catholic faith, and not choose to undermine her teachings with false and inaccurate information and ads that only work to mislead the public,” the Colorado Catholic Conference said in its statement.

Catholics for Choice spokeswoman Meghan Smith, in a campaign swing through Colorado last month, told Boulder community radio station KGNU, “Catholics believe in respecting women’s consciences. And we do believe that abortion access and birth control access are social justice issues. When these services are banned, they hurt the poorest and the most marginalized among us first and worst. And for us, as Catholics, we have a moral obligation and a duty to speak out against those bans.”

“The bishops really are out of touch and they are out of step when it comes to issues of sexuality and reproductive health care,” Smith added.