As Ohio’s Nov. 7 abortion referendum vote nears, a pro-abortion organization called Catholics for Choice has set up billboards throughout Ohio encouraging Catholics to support the abortion referendum, in opposition to Church leaders and magisterial teaching.

Catholics for Choice announced a “billboard blitz” this week, which set up 30 billboards across the state, including the seven largest metropolitan areas. This is the same organization that projected pro-abortion messages onto the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during the 2022 March for Life in Washington, D.C.

The organization predicts that the billboards will make nearly 9 million impressions by Election Day.

“Pro-choice Catholics: you are not alone,” one of the billboards reads. “Vote Yes on Issue 1.”

Catholics for Choice is a national, pro-abortion organization based in Washington, D.C., which advocates for Catholics who support abortion.

Issue 1 would amend the state constitution to add a new right to “reproductive freedom,” which includes “abortion” and “contraception,” among other things. Although the language allows for some restrictions on abortion after “viability,” which normally occurs at 24 weeks of pregnancy, many pro-life organizations have warned that the ambiguous language of the measure could allow abortion up until birth and remove parental consent and notification rules for minors getting abortions.

Some Catholic leaders are criticizing the organization for promoting abortion under the label of being Catholic.

“It is sad that a group of individuals who identify as Catholics would promote a message that endangers pregnant women and vulnerable children,” Brian Hickey, the executive director for the Catholic Conference of Ohio, which represents the state’s bishops, told CNA.

“We pray they convert to Christ’s message of solidarity with the marginalized and join the Church’s commitment to accompanying migrants, the poor, and all vulnerable people,” Hickey said.

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Logan Church, the political director of CatholicVote, a Catholic advocacy organization based in Carmel, Indiana, told CNA that the group is misrepresenting Catholic teaching.

“This group has done nothing more than try to grossly redefine and misrepresent the teachings of the Catholic Church on abortion,” Church said. “According to the long-standing teachings of the Church, this is not a matter of personal interpretation. This is nothing more than an out-of-state funded publicity stunt to try and confuse Catholic voters on their moral obligation to vote no. This is no different than Planned Parenthood attempting to force their crooked values on Ohio families."

Hickey encouraged Catholics to view the language of the proposed amendment on the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s website, which breaks down the concerns about the proposal. 

“Issue 1 puts women at risk, threatens parental rights, and allows for abortion through nine months of pregnancy,” Hickey added. “The bishops of Ohio continue to urge the Catholic faithful, clergy, and all people of goodwill to speak out against the dangers of Issue 1 and vote no.”

Catholic bishops have strongly rebuked the amendment for months. In late August, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr urged “Catholics and all people of goodwill to oppose this very harmful amendment.”

“This amendment could harm women by eliminating safety regulations on abortion clinics in Ohio, harm families by removing the rights of parents to consent to abortion or other reproductive decisions of their minor children, and enable the abortion of preborn children in the womb up to nine months,” Schnurr said.

Catholics for Choice President Jamie L. Manson criticized Ohio’s Catholic bishops in a statement when announcing the billboard campaign. 

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“In the same way bishops are organizing their parishes to try to defeat Issue 1, so too must pro-choice religious groups mobilize to say: ‘Not in the name of our faith will you take away fundamental freedoms,’” Manson said. “Ohio’s Catholic bishops are pulling out all the stops to stigmatize and silence pro-choice Catholics across the state.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church expressly states that “formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense,” which causes “irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.” 

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism teaches. “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

In 2000, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the organization is not “an authentic Catholic voice” but rather “an arm of the abortion lobby” whose activity is “directed to rejection and distortion of Catholic teaching about the respect and protection due to defenseless unborn human life.”

Much of its support comes from non-Catholic donors, including about $50 million since 2000 from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which is associated with billionaire business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffett, a self-described agnostic.