(RNS) — In the wake of a sound abortion rights victory in Ohio, some faith leaders are rejoicing, others mourn and all say their efforts to mobilize around abortion are far from over.
“Asking for God’s protection and mercy, we must look ahead,” Ohio’s Catholic bishops said in a statement after the state’s voters approved Issue 1, a ballot measure establishing a right to abortion in the Ohio Constitution, over the bishops’ strong opposition. “Despite the obstacles this amendment presents, the Catholic Church in Ohio will continue to work for policies that defend the most vulnerable, strengthen the child-parent relationship, and support women in need.”
Catholics for Choice Ohio field organizer Nicole Morino, who mobilized Catholics in the state who support abortion rights ahead of the vote, also said, “The fight is well from over.”
On Tuesday (Nov. 7), 56.6% of Ohioans voted to amend the state constitution, making Ohio the seventh state to protect abortion access since the fall of Roe v. Wade.
The abortion debate in Ohio, the run-up to the vote made clear, is not a simple clash between religious and secular voters. Mainline and Black Protestant clergy rallied across the state in favor of reproductive rights, and Catholics who back abortion rights countered their diocesan leaders’ $1.4 million in anti-Issue 1 spending with 47 billboards urging Ohioans to support the measure. More than 100 Black faith leaders also signed a letter urging Ohioans to vote no.
Exit polls reported by The Washington Post indicate that 83% of Black voters supported the amendment, compared with 53% of white voters and 73% of Latino voters. The exit polls also found that 76% of white evangelicals, who account for roughly 30% of Ohio voters, voted against the amendment. The Post did not include breakdowns for other religious groups.
Steph Hanson-Quintana, director of organizing and movement-building for abortion rights organization Catholics for Choice, said the group was glad Ohioans would have “access to the reproductive care they need, when they need it.”
She also called this moment a “reckoning” for the reproductive rights movement, which she said would need to consider the role of people of faith going forward.
“In order for us to win, we must bring those pro-choice Catholics and people of faith, and move them into action,” she told Religion News Service.
Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati shared a very different message with his parishioners. In a video message released after the vote, he called the passage of the amendment “deeply disturbing.”
“The passage of Issue 1 shows that there remains a desperate need for conversion of minds and hearts to a culture of life in our country, one that respects the inherent dignity and sacredness of every human being, from conception to natural death,” Schnurr said. That conversion, he said, would only be possible through prayer and through continued care for vulnerable members of society.
“I urge everyone in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to redouble support for the many Catholic ministries that provide material resources and personal accompaniment of women, children and families so that abortion ceases to be a consideration,” he said.
The Rev. Lesley Jones, organizing director of the AMOS Project, a network of clergy and congregations working for social justice in Ohio, told RNS that her organization worked hard to have courageous conversations on Issue 1, especially in Black churches and communities.
“We have protected reproductive rights and freedom for now,” she said. “There are already promises from Ohio’s Senate Majority leader and others for policy changes and legislation to repeal and replace it. So, we, clergy and people of faith who value both life and choice, can’t fall asleep or return to silence. We must be ever vigilant and determined to faithfully protect our freedoms, our rights and our power.”
The Rev. Eric Brown, pastor of Woodland Christian Church in Columbus, told RNS he “thanked the Lord” that Issue 1 passed, but added, “I’m not celebrating, though.”
Brown, like many Black faith leader in Ohio, considers himself both pro-life and pro-choice. He believes life begins at conception but also that women should have the right to consult with their doctors, their partners and God when making decisions about their reproductive health — especially when faced with problem pregnancies.
Brown told RNS he knows there are plenty who are disappointed by the vote, and he hopes there will be continued opportunities for dialogue about abortion going forward. But ultimately, he is grateful the amendment was approved.
“In Ohio, women and girls are able to reclaim their inalienable right and inalienable freedom to make choices about their reproductive health,” said Brown. “The state has no right to control the pregnancy of a woman or girl, especially if their lives are in danger. Issue One leaves the supervision of pregnancy solely in the hands of obstetricians, as it should be.”