Knights join thousands in pro-life witness at the state capital before a landmark vote on abortion and parental rights
By Elisha Valladares-Cormier
Overcast skies gave way to piercing sunshine just as more than 5,000 demonstrators, including Knights of Columbus and their families, arrived at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus to conclude the second annual Ohio March for Life on Oct. 6.
The march took place just one month before Buckeye State voters head to the polls for the Nov. 7 general election that includes Ohio Issue 1, an amendment to the state constitution that would “establish an individual right to one’s own reproductive medical treatment, including but not limited to abortion.” The measure’s broad language would effectively permit abortion through nine months of pregnancy and allow minors to receive an abortion and other medical procedures related to reproduction without parental notification or consent.
“It’s a direct attack on the family,” said Field Agent Nicholas Holoman, a member of St. Mary of Chardon (Ohio) Council 15942 who drove three hours with his wife and two daughters to attend the march. “Issue 1 totally strips parents of their rights; if a kid wants gender reassignment or an abortion, the parents don’t even have to be made aware of it. As a Knight and as a parent, that’s why it’s so important to me.”
Ohio State Deputy Jeff Kiliany estimated that more than 150 K of C councils were represented at the march, which is one of eight state demonstrations organized by the March for Life Education and Defense Fund in 2023. The Ohio State Council and local councils sponsored more than 10 buses throughout the state to bring pro-life advocates to the march, with the Supreme Council contributing $20,000 to subsidize the cost.
Speakers at the pre-march rally, which opened with a prayer from Bishop Earl Fernandes of Columbus, included U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance and Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and his wife, Tina. Peter Range, chief executive officer of Ohio Right to Life and a member of Holy Trinity Council 6373 in Bowling Green, called on attendees to pray and fast in the days leading up to the election, reminding them that God uses the ordinary to work miracles: “This is our moment as a pro-life community to tell the rest of the state of Ohio and this nation that Ohio is pro-life.”
In 2019, the Ohio legislature passed the Human Rights and Heartbeat Protection Act, which banned abortion from the moment an unborn child’s heartbeat was detected. Gov. Mike Dewine signed the bill into law, but it has been on hold due to litigation since October 2022.
State Sen. Kristina Roegner, the heartbeat bill’s primary sponsor, said that while it was good that Roe v. Wade had been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the fight was far from over.
“That one battlefront has now exploded into battlefronts across all 50 states, so our work is not done,” Roegner said. “We have got to defeat Issue 1; there has never been a more important issue in our lifetime. Millions of lives are at stake.”
Last year, voters in six states — California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont — saw ballot measures that addressed abortion; in each case, the pro-life position lost. New York and Maryland will have abortion-related measures on the ballot next year, with measures pending in nine more states. As the only statewide abortion measure on the 2023 ballot, Ohio’s Issue 1 has attracted national attention in recent weeks.
“This is a make-or-break moment for Ohio,” said Tim Saccoccia, who serves as vice president of public policy for the Knights of Columbus and participated in the march. “The Knights of Columbus opposes Issue 1 because it fails to honor the dignity of the human person by codifying a right to abortion in the state’s constitution. If that happens, laws that allow parents to walk with their daughters in an unexpected pregnancy could be invalidated, and Ohioans’ long history of protecting women and children from painful, late-term abortions would end. The amendment would not ‘reset’ Ohio’s abortion laws as some have said — rather, it would force some of the most extreme abortion laws in the country on Ohioans.”
For this reason, Knights have ramped up their pro-life activities in the weeks leading up to the election Nov. 7. Councils and chapters throughout the state encouraged Knights and their families to join the bishops of Ohio in praying a 54-day rosary novena for the amendment’s defeat. Fourth Degree Knights from the Diocese of Toledo also provided an honor guard for the diocese’s annual Mass for Life at St. Catherine of Siena Parish and the Eucharistic procession that followed to the Toledo Women’s Center, the last abortion facility operating in the diocese.
“This is our cause,” said Mike Flynn, a member of Father Charles Griffin Council 15793 in Chillicothe, as he marched with his wife and five children. “It gives me hope to see so many Knights here, because it’s innate to who we are as Knights. The truth is that life matters, and it’s our job to stand up and speak the truth.”
ELISHA VALLADARES-CORMIER is associate editor of Columbia and a member of Sandusky (Ohio) Council 546.