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February 1st, 2012
09:23 PM ET

Is Obama losing the Catholic vote?

By Eric Marrapodi and Brianna Keilar, CNN

(CNN)–After years of bridge building with the Catholic Church, the Obama administration may have damaged some of the good will it built up with the nation's 70 million Catholics, which could have steep consequences at the polls in November.

Some rank and file Catholics are beginning to express the same frustrations as clergy about a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy requiring all employers, including religious ones, to pay for FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the birth control pill and Plan B, through health insurance plans. Churches are exempt but hospitals and schools with religious affiliations must comply. The new policy goes into effect August 1, 2012, but religious groups who oppose contraception have been given a yearlong extension to enforce the policy.

"What's offensive is that we're being told, our Catholic institutions which serve this nation well, are being told you who find these things offensive, you should pay for them, in fact you must pay for them," Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, told CNN.

Catholic teaching opposes the use of contraceptives.  Wuerl acknowledged the clergy and the faithful have been at odds over the teachings on contraceptive use. But on this policy he said both are in lockstep over what is being perceived as a violation of religious liberties.

"This time around what people are seeing this isn't a question of one moral teaching or another, it's being able to teach at all. Our freedom, and everyone has a stake in freedom in this country, and I think that's why this resonates across the board," he said.

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Wuerl is calling his congregants to action, asking them to call congress and the White House to express their displeasure.

"We're beginning to say to our people this is what the issue is, it's wrong, we've never experienced this in the history of our country before, this is a violation of the basic rights of conscience and religious liberty. So you need to know that and you need to speak up," he said.

The timing of the administration's announcement has drawn criticism for being tone deaf, coming just three days before tens of thousands of protesters, many of them Catholics who oppose abortion rights, came to Washington for the annual March for Life on the anniversary of Roe vs Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.

"In my estimation it's a huge misstep politically," said Stephen Schneck a political scientist from Catholic University who has consulted with the administration on Catholic issues. In 2009, Schneck also worked with pro-abortion rights Democrats in Congress on the president’s signature health care reform measure to find language that ensured government funds did not pay for abortions.

"The way in which the narrative is being developed is that the administration is at odds with the Catholic Church fundamentally. What I'm seeing in the pews is something of a waking up, a Catholic solidarity. That I think could very well carry over into their political activities" Schneck said. "There's nothing like having a sense of opposition to you to rally the troops and I suspect that's going to happen here."

Schneck pointed particularly to states with large Catholic populations where this new solidarity could have a far-reaching political impact.

"If you look at where those Catholics are, they're in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Florida, which are of course critical states for anyone who wants to become president of the United States," he said.

In 2008, President Obama won 54% of the Catholic vote, according to the Pew Research Center. Early on in his presidency, Obama reached out to Catholics. He appointed prominent Catholics to several cabinet positions and ambassadorships.

In May 2009, the president delivered the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, where he spoke of working together on abortion.

"Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women. Those are things we can do," the president said to rousing applause from the crowd in South Bend, Indiana.

In shaping the new Health and Human Services policy, the administration reached out to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the public policy arm of the church in the United States, and other Catholic leaders in November to seek their input in the process. Many of the same Catholic leaders received a heads up on January 20 several hours before the administration announced the policy.

"This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the statement about the policy.

On Tuesday in the White House briefing room, Press Secretary Jay Carney again defended the administration's decision when pressed by reporters.

"After very careful consideration the administration believes that this strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concern," Carney said.

The administration is extremely concerned this will affect Catholic voters’ support.

As the opposition grew this week, the administration noted to reporters there were Catholics in and out of government who support the measure, as well as interfaith groups.

Late Wednesday night the White House launched the first part of an information campaign to spell out what the policy change does and does not do.

An administration official also pointed to nearly $2 billion in federal grants that have gone to Catholic-related charities since the beginning of the administration as a sign of the willingness to work together.

James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, which hasn't taken a position on the HHS policy, said there could be a silver lining for both Catholics and the administration on this issue. He said with more women able to access contraceptives there could be a reduction in abortions stemming from unplanned pregnancies as a result of the policy.

"More needs to be done on both sides. It's not just a question for the administration, it's a question for the pro-life community and the pro-choice community to put aside their heated rhetoric and find common ground," Salt said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Abortion • Barack Obama • Belief • Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church and state • Politics

soundoff (2,744 Responses)
  1. westward

    What kind of church backs the alternative? A party that intends to make the poor poorer in favor of producing more guns and wars? What kind of church believes we should not care for our elderly in favor of the Paul Ryan plan? What kind of church finds healthcare accessibility a non-issue that should remain a luxury purchase for the rich only? The list goes on and on.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  2. RightTurnClyde

    Belief Blog is trying to be relevant but they have very little relevance (since they are mostly atheist). their pemise isr faith = politics. There is no religious impact on Obama. We all know what Obama is not a Christian and that he often says Holy Quran. We all know he never held a job. We all know he h.a.t.e.s. corporations. We all know he gave most of the bail-out to the UAW and ACORN. We all know he aligns with Bill Ayers and CPUSA. We all know his wife despises the United States. We all know he and she refuse to salute our flag. We all know they are spend taxpayer money on extravangant vacations and golf. We all know that the job situation is worse than ever and the mortgage situation is worsethan evere. He did zero for our economy despite the failed bail out. We all know Iraq and Afghanistan were ending in 2008. We all know he did not close Gitmo. Wse all know he did not get Bin Laden (the Navy did). We all know he ignolres the border and sued Arizona. We all know he sold g.u.n.s to Mexican bandits to destabilize the Mexican government. We all know he is an abject failure. CNN wants to connect it to Catholic birth conrol? Not hardly. He'll porobably get re0elected even though he is the greatest failure ever. (even before he was president)

    February 2, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Adam

      Ohhhhhh Kaaaaaay.......

      February 2, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • d

      And now we all know that you're an idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Joe T.

      Maybe they wouldn't bring politics into religion if the church would stop trying to bring religion into poltics.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Wow

      I really hope you're a Christian because with all those lies your telling it will be nice to know you'll be burning in hell.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Adam

      I'm still trying to figure out if this guy is for real....

      February 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  3. sarah

    If an employee of the Church uses BC, the Church is paying for it no matter what. They can't cut a paycheck and include a list of things employees are not suppose to buy with it. So it doesn't make a difference now that the "sin" is visible for all to see. Maybe the Church should do a better job of explaining its views on BC using a logic argument. Or give in to the wisdom of 75% of its members who use BC.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • bff

      Shouldn't those 75% be excommunicated? Catholisism has a clear set of rules that these women (and men with condoms) are not following?

      February 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • sarah

      If the church excommunicated 75% of its membership, it would lose a great deal of income.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  4. SV

    Contraception reduces abortions. I feel sorry for the teens who get pregnant for the second or third time because they don't have access to contraceptives. Then they abort so their parents don't find out. Some have their babies but can't support them. Parents open your eyes and help your kids. Then there ae the pregnant girls who ae literally thrown out of their homes.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • tom

      Contraception is abortion. Convenient one in a pill.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Joe T.

      tom, what about condoms? Are they abortion too? Wouldn't pulling out be considered abortion too then? What about masturbation?

      Sure, we are talking about medicine here but where do you draw the line? I would like to know.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  5. joshua

    after looking at recent gallop poll numbers, obama's support has eroded to only the few hard core liberal, left wing lunatic fringe. you can expect another jimmy carter type landslide defeat in november. this with the main stream media doing all it can to prop up obama and make him look presidential. will the democrat party risk losing the senate and continue to support obama and his corrupt policies as president?

    February 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • David Johnson

      @joshua

      Actually, Obama will more than likely do a second term and the House will be reclaimed by the Dems. The rich will be taxed. The religious nuts will find a hole to crawl into. LOL

      Also:

      The Christian god is very unlikely to exist. Jesus was an urban legend.

      Cheers!

      February 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • John Thomas

      Joshua, I suppose you support Romney's 15% tax rate on unearned income and Gingrich's lobbying fees paid by taxpayers.
      I also suppose you like to protect the still existent pedophiles in the Roman Catholic Church? How many Dioceses Bankrupt
      and no priests, bishops, cardinals or the Pope in jail? According to various more liberal Catholic media sources, most "good" Catholics practice practice birth control and do get abortions. Also, Joshua, the Catholic Church can stop accepting Public funds and contracts paid for by Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, atheists, etc. to run their Hospitals and Charity Services. I received all sacraments except the final one (i guess no longer mandatory) . And I never knew any good Catholic girls who resented using a condom.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • sarah

      Yep. But he's still equal to Bush at the same point of his first term. It's about how popular the other candidate is too.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Azr43l

      We can only hope he's 1 and done....

      February 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  6. TexSuisse

    This is a really good illustration of why we need better alternatives to employer provided health care. If you don't like the coverage you're receiving, it still doesn't make sense to go out and secure your own insurance, which you could otherwise obtain young and keep for years regardless of your employer or employment status. This bizarre bond between work and health insurance needs to be broken.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  7. Diane

    I guess I would be one of the people the article is speaking about. I am not much of a political activist and normally vote on the person and the broad scope of issues, but I will not support a President who assumes he can tell my religion what to do. The only nice thing about this issue forcing me to switch my vote is that I no longer need to pay attention to the election...imagine what I will do with all that free time.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • sarah

      Mormans were told what to do by the Gov't.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • BrotherAustin

      It's pathetic because you completely misunderstand the issue. The Catholic Church is not allowed to discriminate against women. Grow a brain, this has nothing to do with "telling a church what to do". Stupidity.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • StuckInTX

      @Diane – how moronic is that. The Administration is not forcing the Catholic church into doing anything but provide coverage. If you – being the good little igorant Catholic you are – decide that you need BC, then your employer (the Church) is required to cover it. If you decide that YOU want to pay for BC, which MOST Catholics already use.. Great !! Then the Church is not required to cover it. The GOVT is NOT mandating Cathoilic BC any more than it is mandating Muslim's eat pork. Get a brain lady!

      February 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  8. BRC

    Reposting because people still aren't getting it. The Healt Care Bill is not an attack on religion, it has nothing to do with religion. It is an attempt to provide all citizens of this nation with a minimum level of care. The goal of the bill, if you are a Citizen of the United States you will have access to certain key medical benefits at little or no cost to yourself. The people crafting the bill determined that many of those essential elements related to women's health, including free access to birth control. So, all US citizens will have access to birth control. To help make it more affordable, adn keep the country from utterly financially collapsing, the government is making employers provide these benefits to their employees. SO, if you an EMPLOYER in the US you WILL provide your EMPLOYEES with health care that covers a "universally " determined minimum standard of care, and a part of that is free access to contraceptives. That's it, stop end of story, it doesn't matter who the employer is, or who the employee is, that's the law, the corporations will make it available to the people.

    No medical professional is required to perform something they don't believe in. No individual is forced to use that insurance to pay for something they don't agree with or want. No one's rights are being violated.

    It is NOT a FIRST AMMENDMENT issue. The Consttution applies to citizens, to the people. It does not protect organizations, companies, churches, anything. It protects people. It says that the People will be free to practice their religion and they are, they don't have to use the insurance, and by making companies fund they insurance they are reduing the government burden, so fewer religious believers tax dollars are going towards things they don't agree with. It also says the governemnt will not aid or stand up a state sponsored religion, and they're not. This law applies to all employers, doesn't matter what religion they are affiliated with (it's just the Catholics griping the loudest). IT is perfectly Consttutionally legal.

    If you think this is violating YOUR right to religious freedom, explain how.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • 60minuteman

      This is a very solid and logical point of view. Unfortunately, the religious do not believe in logic. They believe in "faith". The "faith" that they are right, regardless of logic or reason.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • tom

      Simple: forcing my to act against my religious belief. Any religion should be afraid of this law: he can do this to Catholics he can to everyone else.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • BRC

      @tom,
      HOW? WHat bout this bill forces you to act against your religious belief? Nothing in this law says you HAVE to use a condom (assuming you're a guy). SO how does this affect you?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Joe T.

      No sense arguing with tom, BRC. He is against all logical reasoning. It's probably why he is very religious in the first place. He's very angry about this bill and he doesn't even understand why. All he knows is his church is against it, so he must be too. Someone who thinks like that, you can't reason with because they do not want to be reasoned with. They want to be told what to think and how to feel. He's completely dependent on religion to do his thinking for him.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • BRC

      @Joe,
      I know that happens with some people, but it still makes me sad.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  9. george of the jungle

    seperation of church and state. The president is doing the job he should be doing. If you are a faithful catholic then follow your religious beliefs. No one is shoving a pill down your throught. To much religious influence is whats wrong with government today. No church should dictate to the government. What if it where a Muslim idea whould anybody care then?

    February 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Robert in Maryland

      Considering the fact that Barrack Hussein Obama is Muslim.....

      February 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Daddy2010

      Separation? You should read the mandate more carefully.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • BRC

      Prove it.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Adam

      I still can't believe people argue that the United States was founded on Christian principles. Just because a 'creator' is mentioned in our Declaration of Independance, that doesn't mean anything. Outside of Atheists and Buddhists, just about every Religion is centered around a 'creator'. Besides, Jefferson was a deist, and didn't take the idea of Jesus being the son of God seriously at all.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  10. dionysus

    Catholics: "If we can't use contraceptives, then nobody can!"
    Funny thing is these same people would cry bloody murder if Muslims banned all pork products.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Daddy2010

      The use of the quotation marks not only implies, but states, that it is a quote. Since it is not a quote, it is a blatant lie. I have yet to see Muslims tell other religions or non-religions what to eat. I have yet to see Catholics tell other religions or non-religions how to act. These groups set guidelines, rules, etc. for their members. These religions should not be forced to pay for something that is against their religious beliefs. That is called religious freedom.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • sarah

      If employees are using their church salaries to buy BC, the church is already paying for it.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Daddy2010

      @sarah. That may well be the weakest attempt at a debate point I have ever heard. Best of luck to you with that logic.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • sarah

      It's still true. The Catholic Church is still paying for BC if the employee wants it. Unless they can write a list of things employees can't have according to their religion, they will always be "forced to pay for BC".

      February 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  11. Chuck Anziulewicz

    There's a BIG difference between official Vatican positions on issues like contraception, and what Catholics at the grassroots level believe. Most Catholics have practiced artificial forms of contraception, despite official church policy against it. In MY personal experience Catholics tend to be much more progressive and open-minded than your average Southern Baptist. So NO, I dont' think Obama is losing the Catholic vote.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • tom

      Catholic who chooses to follow his own principles/rules? Have you read your catechism lately? Time to switch denomination I would think.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • sarah

      Agreed. There is a huge disconnect between the two.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  12. Blasphemy

    Professional Medical ethics versus ???

    February 2, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  13. greg

    Bottome line: we are a secular country that permits freedom of religion. Religious groups benefit from this given that there is no majority faith. Beyond Church/Temple/Mosque walls, we are suppossed to be a free country. The idea that women give up health benefits to work for a religious-affliated hospitial or school is riduculous.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  14. Tom

    So the law isn't saying it is mandatory for people to use birth control. It's saying that it must be covered. Why not cover it? If the employees are against birth control, they are not going to use it. And if the person wants to use it, that just means they do not follow 100% of what the Vatican says.

    I say leave the choice up to the person. If a church wants to stamp out Birth Control, let them preach against it. But in the end, at least here in the US, we have a few rights left to us. Deciding whether or not to use birth control should still be a personal choice. Not dictated by your employer.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • sarah

      Not to mention, if the employee is buying BC with her salary, the church is still "paying" for BC. The only beef they really seem to have is that they don't like being reminded.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  15. JohnDHater

    It's time the church pays up!!!

    February 2, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  16. koko brewster

    I'm not Catholic and I do believe in birth control however, I can't say I agree with Obama implementing this policy based on the fact that it imposes his will on a group that doesn't believe in it. Everyone seems to be so Anti-Catholic here but noone is seeing the bigger issue, the government imposing THEIR beliefs and THEIR will on YOU. No matter what religion you are we should all be concerned that policy's like this are being implemented. Whatever your beliefs are be afraid, be very afraid that in the near future the government will ignore your beliefs and impose THEIR beliefs on you. Regarding this particular issue, maybe if the government actually fixed the healthcare system and proper healthcare and medicines were provided at reasonable rates this wouldn't even be an issue.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Daddy2010

      Well said. People get caught up in the anti- bullying that they miss the fact their beliefs will be under attack next.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • I'm The Best!

      The government is making sure everyone has the same choices. I don't agree with a lot of what the government does, even this whole health care thing I'm not very excited about. But what they're doing here is just making sure every American has the same option. They're doing the right thing forcing them to offer this.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  17. Ken

    This is one of the big issues that caused me to leave the Catholic church. With 7 billion people on the planet, countless teen pregnancies in this country and rampant STDs around the world, Rome needs to take a step out of the dark ages and deal with the realities of today. Employee sponsored healthcare should absolutely cover birth control.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Pablo

      Did any of your decision have to do with seeking God's truth instead of your own? Looking into the reasons for the beliefs and the historical origin of the beliefs and the faith itself? Those are the reasons why after years of being away, I came back to the Catholic Church. Once I believed in Jesus, I had to either be Catholic or nothing. Every other Christian religion is rooted in it, whether they believe that or not.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  18. ratickle

    Let's hope he loses the Catholic vote.... and the Protestant vote.... and the Jewish vote.... and the Muslim vote... and the Atheist vote.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  19. Ron

    The bishops are out of touch with rank and file Catholics. We could care less about birth control. In fact, most of us practice birth control ourselves.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  20. Carol

    No, the President is not interfering with freedom of religion. Schools and hospitals (not churches) are being required to provide health insurance options that covers birth control for women. Employees are not being required to use birth control.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.