Who’s blocking access to reproductive freedom in Ohio?
Aaron Baer, president of the Center for Christian Virtue, speaks during the 'Ohio March for Life' to support ending abortion access in Ohio at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 5, 2022. | Barbara Perenic / The Columbus Dispatch via AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio—November marks election season around the country, and in the wake of the stripping of abortion rights in the Dobbs decision handed down by the right-wing Supreme Court, people around the country are coming to realize that their rights are being swiped from under their noses.

In many states, including many Republican-ruled “red” states, people are rejecting the Dobbs decision, much to the neoconservative pundits’ surprise.

For example, Kansas had a legacy provision in its state constitution protecting abortions, and on Aug. 2, 2022, less than 40 days after Dobbs, the people of Kansas voted to keep that right with an almost 20% margin.

Now, Ohio is gearing up for its own fight. Conservatives are determined to set roadblocks in the way, including numerous lawsuits as well as the now-defeated Issue 1, which would have made the threshold for a state referendum on abortion rights 60%, not a simple majority as has been the case in referenda votes in the state for over 100 years.

But just who is the wizard pulling the strings behind the curtain of this great conservative campaign?

The Center for Christian Virtue is a far-right fundamentalist organization, once designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. CCV espouses the typical language that conservative groups use to confuse their audience. They hide their hate for the LGBTQ community and people seeking reproductive care behind the language of “religious freedom” and “human dignity.”

But other than their poisonous reactionary language, why do they matter?

The CCV maintains a network of like-minded organizations that builds cohesion among conservative groups and brings resources to bear. Such resources include the $1.1 million needed to purchase the old Columbus Dispatch building in downtown Columbus.

The CCV oversees three “outreach” programs through which it mobilizes support for its political agenda: the Church Ambassador Network, a network of over 2,200 churches; the Christian Business Partnership; and the Ohio Christian Education Network, an affiliation of over 170 Catholic and Evangelical schools.

With these programs, and in combination with well-funded PACs, the CCV was able to drag the struggle for a constitutionally protected right to an abortion before the Ohio Supreme Court not once, but twice. In both of these instances, it was the CCV’s networks that generated the right-wing united front that backed the challenges.

CCV has also been responsible for the anti-LGBTQ coalition on the religious right as well; it was at the center of the Obergefell v. Hodges case that cemented the right to same-sex marriage. In 2004, Ohio, at the behest of Christian fundamentalist organizations like CCV (then known as Citizens for Community Values), placed a ban on same-sex marriages in the state constitution.

James Obergefell sued state government officials after they refused to certify his marriage certificate upon his husband’s death. The Director of the Ohio Department of Health and Administration of then-Gov. John Kasich may have been the named plaintiffs of the day, but it was the CCV that paved the way for the ban challenged by the Obergefell case.

Given our current renegade U.S. Supreme Court, seeing an effective neutering of same-sex marriage rights is only as far-fetched as overturning Roe v. Wade seemed just a short time ago.

But where does the CCV get its money to do things like purchase millions in real estate in a hyperinflated downtown Columbus market, bring litigation to the Ohio Supreme Court several times in the last decade, run state-wide ads for issues they advocate for or against, lobby the state house on pending legislation, or maintain a full-time staff?

  • The first piece of this puzzle is the aforementioned networks that the CCV operates—the Church Ambassador Network, the Christian Business Partnership, and the Christian Education Association—through which it not only directs efforts for a Christian right-wing fundamentalist political agenda but also secures funding from allied associations.
  • The second puzzle piece is the CCV’s connections to wealth and power through its very well-off and well-connected Board of Directors. Joseph L. Trauth, Jr. (Chairman), Alex Toreno (Vice Chairman), and David Myhal all have close ties to the political establishment in Ohio, having worked as lobbyists and legal counsel for many of the state’s top political brass.

Ken Taylor, another board member, is the President of Caterpillar Ohio, a subsidiary of Caterpillar, Inc. Board member Seth Morgan was a former politician himself, serving as the Republican representative for Ohio’s 36th District from 2009-10. The last member of the board of directors for CCV is Sally Alspaugh, a 30-year tax avoidance specialist for the rich families of Cincinnati, currently acting as the Director of Estate Giving at Cincinnati Zoo.

This power team of directors primarily originates from the Cincinnati area, and some allege they may have connections with other right-wing luminaries, including Sen. JD Vance and up-and-comers like Vivek Ramaswamy, also originally from the Cincinnati area.

This organization and others like it use their claim to faith and America’s foundational principle that people of other faiths should not be discriminated against as a bludgeon to bash legal scholars and everyday folk alike. They bemoan every attempt to bring equality and justice for marginalized groups as an assault on their own religious expression. The essential argument goes something like this: “We can’t have equitable access to abortion, that would mean my tax dollars are going to fund abortions, which is against my religious beliefs!”

Concurrently, these groups’ tax dollars are currently being spent on endless foreign wars, some of which even kill their fellow Christians in the Middle East, which one would think certainly goes against their religious beliefs. Conveniently, however, such things are not lobbied against by organizations like CCV and their labyrinthine network of allies.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

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Macklin Mollard
Macklin Mollard

Macklin Mollard is a member of the Mike Gold Writer’s Collective based in Columbia, Ohio. He follows state politics, labor, housing, policing, and other issues.