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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 • Faith Now • Politics

soundoff (2,744 Responses)
  1. Mike D

    Simple solution to Catholic Medical facilities. If you don't want to offer the full range of medical treatment to the public, then only cater to Catholics. Become a "Catholic-Only" facility and those costumers you still have will know up front what treatment they will or will not receive.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • Gene Church

      Lets see, if you don't want to go against your beliefs, go against your beliefs are provide only for your own, and not your neighbor.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • Mike D

      What if your beliefs say you don't treat minorities?

      February 2, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      My beliefs say it is evil to give Medicare/Medicaid $$ to a pedophile organization.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:13 am |
  2. Scott

    Obama is losing EVERYONE'S vote. Nobody is going to be fooled by the snake charmer after witnessing his 4 years of failure.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  3. Victor Ramirez

    He lost this Mexican American Catholic vote. You won't hear it from Oprah or the Media but the Mexican American Catholic vote had a lot to do with putting him in office. He hasn't appointed any qualified Mexican Americans to his cabinet or to the judicial system. I for one have had enough. He's all about going out of his way to support Blacks and Gays. I encourage all of my Mexican American friends and family to vote Republican. I'm more comfortable with their stand on moral issues anyway. I don't have any use for Obama.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:33 am |

  4. Look, some of us go to mass once or twice a week, and we grew up in the Church and all that, AND we learned to actually care for people. We should look to someone who has a demonstrated commitment to look after the people who need to be lifted up. Obama is that person. I will vote for Obama in 2012.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • Scott

      Obama doesn't care about anyone but himself. He has cost millions of people their jobs. He has caused millions of families to struggle with skyrocketing inflation and gas prices. He is stealing money from middle class workers to pay for health insurance for illegals and lazy bums that refuse to work. Obama is an arrogant hypocrite, and he needs to go. Only an absolute FOOL would vote for him in November.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:37 am |
    • Gene Church

      Obama's position on abortion is inherently evil, and no matter how many times you go to Mass, your actions go against the Church.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      Speaking of mass...when is that sacrifice thingy gonna "take" anyway...you and your non-atoning "savior" ?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  5. Dan M.

    You know I was a practicing Catholic for many years. Most Catholics use birth control. Honestly, the only Catholics I ever had contact with who were anti-birth control, or even anti-abortion for that matter, were mostly elderly people. Hell, Catholics turn a blind eye to many of the churches social strictures. There are plenty of divorced and remarried Catholics, for example. I really don't think that your average rank-and-file are going to be too upset if their insurance plan is required to cover birth control. It doesn't mean they have to use it if they don't want, and really, most would be more upset if they couldn't get it when they wanted.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • Gene Church

      We'll see. But I will not comply.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Rubedo

      @ Gene-If you're a parent and decide to use contraception once you've had 2,3 or 4 children, that is your choice. It's the more decent thing to do than to have 10 children that you cannot feed and properly care for. What do priest know about how much it takes to care for children? Nothing. My belief is in God, not the priests.

      That's why catholics use their common sense about limiiting their family size. Besides, the church nor priests have never had children crying at their feet because they're hungry. When the first priest gives birth, they might see things differently.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  6. InAwe

    I have wondered for years if the Catholics could all use some time in a classroom....learning about Environmental Issues, especially OVERPOPULATION! As humans continue to eat the planet's food and natural resources, while polluting its air, water and land, perhaps it's time to call a HALT to large families. We simply can't go on like this!

    February 2, 2012 at 1:29 am |
    • Dirk

      Overpopulation... where? In the US? Don't think so. We are doing great at controlling our population by aborting almost 3 million Americans every year while complaining about needing illegal immigration to boost our numbers, to build our economy and pay taxes, etc.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:33 am |
    • Gene Church

      No overpopulation. Were it not for immigration, we would not be replacing our population in this country.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • InAwe

      Dirk: The numbers are there in your response. At 3 million abortions per year, over 30 years = 90 million! So the US population would be over 400 million were it NOT for abortions. Surely 7 billion mouths on this small blue planet is WAY too many!

      February 2, 2012 at 7:34 am |
  7. Brian

    "Not only Catholics are against contraception. All men of conscience are because it subverts the natural purpose of s.e.x"...................Yes, women should get pregnant every 9 months until they reach menopause. That's how it is in Mexico and we wonder why we have an immigration problem.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  8. JP

    ITo all Catholics out there, be strong and may God give you the grace to stand strong for what you believe in. To those who are so offended and angry at what Catholics and Christians believe/teach have you ever asked yourself why? Do Catholics not have the right as all Americans do to believe and teach what they wish without being torn to pieces. Should they be forced to pay for things that clearly violate what they believe such as contraception and abortion? This article is not about whether you think abortion or contraceptives are right or wrong. This is about the rights of Americans who are being forced to do something that they do not believe in.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • Dan M.

      I will bet you that it would actually cost more to administer having separate groups that do or don't want birth control coverage, than just to offer the same plan to everyone. I don't think I should have to pay more just so you can have a symbolic gesture for a service that nobody is going to make you use if you don't want to.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  9. rdg18

    I will never vote for a demorat anyway.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  10. Jim

    AB Wuerl is out of touch with mainstream Catholics who have years ago decided to ignore the Church's teaching on the use of contraceptives. Wake up clergy! You're here to serve us not yourselves.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • David Mariott

      Since when has the customer always been right when it comes to religious doctrineor the laws of society for that matter? ....sounds like you've been hanging out at Wal-Mart too long!

      February 2, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  11. Brian

    Don't worry, this country is full of FORMER Catholics. Most of us will vote for Obama.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • TheRonin

      Did you get fired?

      February 2, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • Dirk

      No worries about whom you guys were voting for we already knew that. Conscience is a personal think that should only be discussed behind closed doors.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:37 am |
    • Gene Church

      OK. That means that you aren't Catholic. It is intrinsically evil to vote for a pro-abortion politician.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      Pope Gene I has spoken.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:16 am |
    • Lee

      I agree Brian

      February 2, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  12. The Prophet Mohammed

    Don't worry Obama will back off until after the election.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  13. TheRonin

    What? Catholics are allowed to vote? In all seriousness if God is involved in the decision you make to vote...you should not be allowed to vote.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Samsword

      Why not? When it comes down to it, every decision you make is based off of personal beliefs. Should atheists be restricted from voting because they don't believe in a "purpose of life?" That doesn't seem fair does it. When it comes down to it, everything we do, everything we know, everything we think is a reflection of our experience.

      There's no such thing as "unbiased logic." Sorry to break it to you, but it's ALL subjective. Everything we know is relative to what we've experienced as individuals, groups, nations, and the human race. So if God isn't part of your vote, then that's fine for you. But if someone has a belief in God, that idea (whether true or false to you) is part of them, and part of their voice. And that's the point here in America: everyone deserves a voice!

      February 2, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  14. tim12

    that would be nice. there are a lot of catholics. i dont imagive a lot of jews are real happy with him. mybe he can do something to get liberal hollywood against him.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Scott

      Heck, Obama is losing EVERYONE'S vote. Nobody is going to be fooled by the snake charmer after witnessing his 4 years of failure.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  15. George R

    Not only Catholics are against contraception. All men of conscience are because it subverts the natural purpose of s.e.x.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  16. Kathleen

    Once the Church got in bed with the government and sold out in return for the $2B in grants they were then owned by and beholden to the federal government. This fiasco is just the beginning of "what goes around comes around."

    February 2, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Gene Church

      Your last name wouldn't be Sebelius, would it?

      February 2, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  17. Mike

    It's time churches started paying taxes!

    February 2, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Gene Church

      And that would fix this, how? I am not a Church, I pay taxes, and am ordered to pay for birth control and abortions for my employees in violation of my beliefs. They may go out and acquire these things without my financial support.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • Kenneth

      Gene, why should your employees have to foot the bill for something they decide they want and/or need, which is covered by all other sensible employers, just because you have faith in a particular deity that you believe opposes that choice? They would have to quit their job just to get what everyone else has access to? That sure doesn't sound fair or ethical to me.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Gene Church

      Kenneth, my employees have to foot the bill for things they want because we all should. If an employer is willing to pay for the morning after pill, an abortifacient, he is by definition not sensible. My employees have the right to purchase. And I should have the right not to. I am being asked to purchase something for them that they can buy, and do not NEED.

      They don't have to quit their job. They just have to pay to play.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      Then you also should have no coverage for pregnancy and birth. Can't have it both ways. They are BOTH lifestyle choices.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:18 am |
  18. Muamba

    I am catholic and think that this church needs an up-(faith) lift. Catholic dogmas are not meant to become sstate laws. Anybody red about the abuses of the Middle Age in Europe? Remember, the USA were born as a reaction to those abuses...So, can the Catholic church in the US step up to the American promise?

    February 2, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Gene Church

      The American promise was for freedom and individuality. And this decision takes both away.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  19. Commojoe

    Okay, Christians, now is the time to stand up for LIFE. If you value life in ANY form, unborn, very young, very old, with disabilities, or in any way imperfect, you'd better not vote demlib, and definitely not for baby-murder-loving Bozobama, or he'll force his baby killing on you.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • peggy

      commojoe,

      Reading your disrespectful post made me want to regurgitate, hence,I am proud to be pro-choice.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • atroy

      To clarify...you also oppose the death sentence right? Or are you like most Christians who think the whole "vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord" thing doesn't apply to you?

      February 2, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  20. Robert

    all these rules of the church are made up by men. Not Jesus, not God. Jesus never said anything about clergy not being able to marry, women becoming priests, birth control is wrong etc. So all you hard core catholics who follow every rule in the book should re evaluate.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • Gene Church

      OK, we've reevaluated, and want to keep what we have. Why won't you and Obama let us?

      February 2, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • peggy

      The reason for the ban on contraceptives has nothing to do with God. It has to do with finances. Let the poor procreate and take from what little they have to add to the vast riches of the church's wealth, which is the same reason that priests must not marry nor have children. It is all about the money for the church. This I know for sure.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • Gene Church

      Peggy, the one thing that is certain is that you know nothing for certain.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      Obama did not FORCE the congress to pass the law.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:18 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      Everyone except for Gene. He IS certain.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:21 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.