Portland Archbishop Goes on the Offensive on Abortion

Alexander Sample says real Catholics cannot be pro-choice and makes parallel to Nazis.

“We absolutely excoriate the Nazis, as we should, for the 6 million-plus Jews that were killed during that regime.…I think most people don’t realize that since Roe v. Wade in 1973, over 63 million unborn children have lost their lives to abortion just here in the United States.”

—Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample, in a July 8 video

Sample took to YouTube in a slickly produced video that in slightly less than 10 minutes manages to equate abortion with Nazism, declares “the action of abortion and advocating for abortion is evil,” and concludes that if you are pro-choice, you aren’t Catholic.

“It’s like a person who claims to be vegan and then eats meat,” Sample says. “It’s incoherent.”

Sample, 61, enjoys a large flock: 124 parishes and missions; dozens of schools with 14,000 students; and the state’s largest hospital system, Providence. And he’s been archbishop since 2013, long enough to know state and local politics.

The archdiocese did not respond to requests for comment, so we asked others what’s going on.

What’s the context of Sample’s remarks?

Sample’s pronouncements come on the heels of a May 27 video in which he voiced his support for San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s denying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) communion anywhere in his diocese because of her support for abortion rights.

Sample applauded that decision. “What Archbishop Cordileone did was actually an act of pastoral love and care for Speaker Pelosi,” he said.

Kevin Mannix, the prolific Salem ballot measure author and former lawmaker running for a House seat, is one of few Oregon politicians who strongly identifies as Catholic. Mannix says the national climate may present opportunities for pro-life Oregonians, but such conversations must be “straightforward but gentle.”

The new video arrived two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections—and Portland protesters both marched and shattered windows in response. Sample’s video suggests he isn’t surrendering turf or conceding that his stance is antithetical to women’s rights.

“We care profoundly about women,” Sample said in the July video. “In fact, you know, the church is one of the preeminent organizations that is reaching out in various ways to help women.”

What are the politics of abortion among Catholics?

Portland pollster John Horvick of DHM Research says his firm rarely asks Oregonians about abortion because it’s a settled issue here. Nationally, Horvick says, polling consistently finds an even split. “Catholics are ambivalent on abortion,” Horvick says. “It’s about 50-50.”

As a non-Catholic, Horvick says he can only speculate about Sample’s motivation, but he says it might make sense post-Roe to try to galvanize pro-lifers to push for some limits on abortion or more parental notification here. “Relative to other states, Oregon has exceptionally permissive abortion laws,” Horvick says. “Maybe his rhetoric is about motivating true believers.”

Could that happen here?

Oregon has among the nation’s strongest abortion protections, and voters have consistently reflected that support. In 2018, voters nixed ending public funding for abortion 64% to 36%.

Samantha Gladu, the Portland-based organizational development director for the National Network of Abortion Funds, says Oregonians are ready to defend current abortion laws.

“The anti-abortion movement is a radical minority that is out of step with the majority of Americans who support abortion and is rooted in white supremacy and violence,” she adds. “They have led an insidious, strategic power campaign and aligned with the most cruel, dangerous, hateful, and dehumanizing political groups to achieve their goals by any means necessary.”

Correction: This story originally said incorrectly that Legacy Health is affiliated with the Catholic Church. WW regrets the error.