Oregon 2014 photo
Campaign to end public funding for abortion posted billboard located on I-5, just north of Albany, and at three other locations in Oregon.
Oregon 2014 photo
Campaign to end public funding for abortion posted billboard located on I-5, just north of Albany, and at three other locations in Oregon.
Organizers of a ban on public spending for abortion are seeking more Catholics to sign a petition that would qualify a measure for Oregon's 2014 ballot.

The volunteer-run group Oregon 2014 has tallied about 32,000 signatures so far and wants 150,000 in place by Mother's Day. The state deadline is July.

"In large part, the efforts of the Catholic Church have remained on a grassroots level. There's strong support for the initiative, but we're still waiting for the fire to start," says Suzanne Bellatti, a young mother of four and a member of St. Rose of Lima Parish who is trying to boost Catholic participation statewide. "The estimated number of Catholics participating with this initiative is a small fraction of the number of registered, practicing parishioners throughout the archdiocese. Time is of the essence to make an impact on the lives of Oregonians."

Volunteers have been gathering signatures for Initiative Petition 6 after Mass on Sundays, but the numbers will need to pick up to prevent a repeat of 2012, when the effort fell short with only 70,000 signatures.   

Late last year, Bellatti sent Catholic pastors a letter from the campaign in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Portland's Office of Life, Justice and Peace.   

"I humbly recommend that this initiative be supported with a powerful call to action that comes, not just from a quiet, murmuring, grassroots effort within a few parishes but, boldly from each parish priest across the state," Bellatti wrote. "The witness of not just a few priests, but of all priests of our archdiocese working together is a powerful sign of solidarity, conviction and hope for all laypeople in your parishes."

Almost half of abortions in Oregon are funded by state taxpayers through the Oregon Health Plan — that's more than 4,000 abortions each year at a cost of $1.75 million.

The proposed legislation would amend the state Constitution and Oregon would join 33 states that already ban public money for abortions. Medically necessary abortions and those in cases of rape or incest would still be paid for by the Oregon Health Plan.  

“Catholics are strongly encouraged to support the Oregon 2014 citizen Initiative," says Father Peter Smith, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Portland. "Any measure that strengthens life and improves the protection of unborn children is a good step forward.”

A poll commissioned by the initiative's organizers shows that only 20 percent of supporters are Catholics. That seemed low, given the number of Catholics in the state, about 450,000.  

"We are trying to get to know Catholics," says Jeff Jimerson of Corvallis, one of the chief petitioners for the ban. "We are still seeing a really mixed response from churches." The zeal of any congregation depends in large part on the pastor's enthusiasm, says Jimerson, who believes hundreds of thousands of people in the pews would like to sign.

The campaign is attempting a print-your-own-petition strategy. Supporters can find the documents on the website and get encouragement to have friends sign or at least sign themselves.  

The movement needs 116,284 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, but is aiming for 150,000 because many get nixed during the state verification process.
Some people signing the petition are not pro-life. Many libertarians object to public funds being spent on abortion.  

"Wherever we stand, we should agree that we shouldn't be forcing people to pay for something as controversial as this," Jimerson says. "If we make this a pro-life thing, it's not going to pass. But if we make this a freedom thing, a tax thing, it has a good chance."

The campaign has purchased billboards in the state to let people know how much money they are paying for abortion. The organization commissioned a poll in October that found 54 percent of Oregonians oppose public funding for the procedure.

The federal government already prohibits the use of federal taxpayer money for abortions. Oregon is the state with the fewest limits on the practice: it allows non-physicians to perform abortions, permits partial-birth abortions, and has refused required counseling, waiting periods and parental involvement.

On the national front, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston last week urged support for the federal No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would extend the ban to plans subsidized by the Affordable Care Act.  

"The federal government should not use its funding power to support and promote elective abortion, and should not force taxpayers to subsidize this violence,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon did not respond to requests for comment.
The campaign website is oregon2014.org.