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February 7th, 2012
05:02 PM ET

Battle escalates over Obama rule for contraception coverage at Catholic institutions

By Dan Gilgoff and Lesa Jansen, CNN

(CNN) - The battle over a new White House policy compelling Catholic institutions to cover contraception in health insurance plans continues to escalate, with Republican presidential candidates denouncing the rule, liberal groups spotlighting Catholic support for contraception, and the Obama administration vowing to confront religious concerns head on.

"The president's interest is in making sure that … all women here have access to the same preventive care services,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.

“He is also concerned about and understands the religious concerns that have been raised,” Carney said, stressing that the White House would work to see if “the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns.”

Earlier Tuesday, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, David Axelrod, signaled that the president might be open to compromise on the issue.

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms,” Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.”

But the dispute - spurred by a late January announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that all employers, including Catholic hospitals and schools, will be required to offer free access to FDA-approved contraceptives like the birth control pill and Plan B (the so-called morning-after pill) through health insurance plans - shows no signs of dying down.

”Implementing the policy as is and allaying the concerns are mutually exclusive," Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Tuesday. "If they want to allay concerns, they need to change the policy. Nothing less will do."

Churches are exempt from the policy, which goes into effect August 1, and religious institutions that oppose contraception have been given a yearlong extension to comply.

The Roman Catholic Church, which opposes the use of contraception, continued Tuesday to signal that it is intent on resisting the new policy.

“The bishops aren’t going to stop until this is fixed, and that means pursuing every legal means available to them to fix it,” Picarello said.

The flap was thrust further into the national political spotlight on Tuesday, as Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attacked the new rule in his victory speech on a night that he swept primaries and caucuses in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

The administration had told American Catholics that “you have a right to health care, but you will have the health care that we tell you you have to give your people, whether it’s against the teachings of your church or not,” Santorum said in his Missouri speech.

“I never thought, as a first-generation American, whose parents and grandparents loved freedom and came here because they didn’t want the government telling them what to believe and how to believe … that we’d have a president of the United States who would roll over that and impose his secular values on the people of this country.”

His GOP rival Mitt Romney has continually denounced the Health and Human Services rule in recent weeks.

Speaking in Loveland, Colorado, on Tuesday, Romney said the rule was “in violation of the religious conscience of (Catholic) organizations.”

“This kind of assault on religion will end if I am president of the United States,” he said.

A survey released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute found that Catholics are divided over whether religious colleges and hospitals should have to provide employees with health insurance that covers birth control at no cost. Forty-five percent of Catholic voters support such a requirement, while 52% oppose it.

“Given how closely divided Catholic voters are over the requirement that religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception,” said Daniel Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute, “it seems unlikely that this issue will galvanize Catholics nationally and seriously undermine Obama's electoral prospects with this important religious constituency.”

Planned Parenthood also released a survey on the rule Tuesday; it found that 53% of Catholics think that women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage as other women.

“The message to Democrats is that this is something all women deserve to have and that religion just shouldn’t be an issue with it,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, which conducted the survey for Planned Parenthood.

Over the past two weekends, the American Catholic hierarchy has distributed letters harshly condemning the Health and Human Services policy to be read at parishes nationwide during Mass.

“We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law,” Kansas City, Kansas, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann wrote in a letter to parishes last weekend. “Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help rebuild America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights.”

The rule has also drawn the ire of some influential evangelicals. “I'm not a Catholic but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against govt pressure,” influential California-based pastor Rick Warren said in a tweet Tuesday night.

“I'd go to jail rather than cave in to a govement mandate that violates what God commands us to do,” Warren tweeted in a separate message. “Would you?”

- CNN's Brianna Keilar contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Politics

soundoff (1,120 Responses)
  1. Lindsey

    Hey. If Santorum is the nominee and wins the Presidency, then Catholic hospitals won't have to worry about offering contraceptives to their employees via health plans. Contraception will be banned across the board in every state under a Santorum presidency. Condoms included. Think I'm kidding? Read up on Santorum's far-out-in-space position on the issues. And become educated.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Charlie

      My goodness, is it after 2 already, I see the leftist wackos are waking up.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • sam

      Charlie, are you denying Santorum's stance, or are you just upset that not everyone agrees with it?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  2. xeno

    As long as churches and other special interest groups receive tax exempt status, we are ALL being required to pay for things we don't believe in.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  3. Vic of New York

    Keep those the Catholic Church out of Women's Uteruses – and Boys' annuses ! ! !

    February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  4. Milton

    And you wonder why the rest of the world thinks we are crazy? Right wing christian wacko's don't believe in using contraception or abortion, yet then when these babies are born into poverty they also don't believe in goverment assistance. They can't have it both ways. Just plain nuts!!!!!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Mateo

      You are exactly right.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Charlie

      Yet we allow left wing socialist to tell us what we must buy. Obama and his Comrades must go.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • sam

      What other kind of logic would you expect from people like Charlie, who believe in a big man in the sky who makes the rules?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  5. jLake

    I was prescribed birth control pills because I was getting very painful ovarian cysts. The pill is not always used strictly for contraception. It isn't a religious issue – it's a medical issue. All women should have equal access to birth control for whatever reason they need it or want it. If you don't believe in contraception, don't use it.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • vbscript2

      No one is trying to deny access to it. This regulation forces employers to pay for it, regardless of whether the employers believe it is right or not. This is illegal, per the First Amendment. End of story.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • El Flaco

      The 'employer' doesn't have rights. Only people have rights. All Americans have a right to the kind of medical care that the law provides for. I don't want employers picking the medical procedures that THEY approve of. They have no right to practice medicine.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • renaldo

      All they have to do is quit taking Federal funds. Then they can do anything they want.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • CallingBS

      Exactly, I think the administration should put forth the bill in that language. It is law that these items shall be available for every woman who wishes to use them, It is not a mandate that they do! The church shouldn't have any say in what the law does. Neither should it have a say in how people take care of themselves, especially if they are not taking care of any unwanted child.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • sam

      vbscript2 – no employer has the right to pick and choose what medical care their employees are allowed to have. They can either offer coverage, or none at all; people of all faiths work for catholic hospitals. If they want to make a fuss about this, they can damn well stop taking federal funding for a wide variety of things. The catholic church is still subject to the laws of this country while it operates here, whether it likes it or not.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  6. vbscript2

    Frankly, I don't see how any American can not have a problem with this regulation. I'm not Catholic and I have no problem with birth control. I do, however, have a very big problem with First Amendment rights being violated. There is simply no legitimate argument that this doesn't violate the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Charlie

      Obama's Blind Sheep won't see it that way. They like the dictator telling them what to do as they are unable to think on their own.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Maureen

      they are not saying they have to walk around and hand out contraception, they are saying that the women who are insured by this religious health companies have to have the same right as other women – what's the big thing – they have to right to not get it – GET OVER YOURSELF PEOPLE SMARTEN UP!!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • MatK

      You are looking at this from the wrong perspective. This is the Catholic Church trying to impose it's beliefs on it's employees, who may or may not be Catholic or share the Church's views. How is this any different to the Catholic Church objecting to it's employees using their paycheck to pay for birth control? That would not be permitted, and similarly this should not be permitted. When the Church acts as an employer and hires people of all different beliefs, it is no different than any other empolyer. The Church is well within its rights to tell other CATHOLICS (regardless of who they work for) that they should not be using birth control. The Church is NOT within its rights to limit the rights of its employees (who may or may not be Catholic) to obtain birth control. If every other employer is required to provide this employment benefit, the Chruch should have to also.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Apocrypha

      I don't understand how this infringes upon 1st Amendment rights. The law requires organizations provide insurance coverage of FDA approved drugs regardless of their religious leaning with the one exception of purely religious organizations (churches, mosques, etc.). There's no free speech issue here – you don't have the unalienable right to deny employees insurance coverage.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • CallingBS

      No ones freedom of religion is being encroached on, if anything its being denied by the church. No one say anyone HAS TO DO anything, what is being said is IT'S AVAILABLE if ONE WANTS to USE IT. So why should anyone who would want to use it not be able to because THE CATHOLIC CHURCH cries. Think outside the box...

      February 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • sam

      You don't see it because you've made up your mind on the issue, and refuse to see or hear anything else, and then you expect everyone to completely agree with you. Dumba.ss.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • SFRich

      Charlie seems to have issues with critical thinking (not the Simon Cowell type)... and logic. He just likes to spew out nonsense based on delusional misunderstanding of the world in general.

      He finds comfort in knowing that when things get too difficult to understand, he can just blame them on Obama.

      Unfortunately he's not alone.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  7. Fozman

    If you don't believe in contraception, don't use it. Just because your medical plan offers it, doesn't mean your rights not to use it are being infringed upon.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • vbscript2

      Being forced to pay for it (which is what this regulation forces,) however, does violate your rights.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Charlie

      vbscript2 – Well said, thank you

      February 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • John _Atlanta GA

      Paying for it is not a sin. It is ilegal to pay someone less because of thier religion, ot should not be legal to provide them with less benefits because of their religion either. If the Catholic church wants to operate businesses outside of the church, they should follow all the rules everyone else does. Would you people fight for Muslims to have special laws for them too? Supporting Sharia law is the same argument the catholic church is making, just from a different cult.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Mateo

      While that is logical, many folks still can't grasp the concept. And they vote. Yikes!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  8. randyman99

    Here's the apparent hypocrisy – Those who say this regulation opposes their religious freedom are disingenuous. There is nothing in this law that says you HAVE to take contraception. What they want to do is to control other people, to stop them from having access to contraception, regardless of their own personal convictions. That is forced religious beliefs, which the U.S. Government should not support nor condone.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Charlie

      I don't oppose this on religious grounds. I oppose this because I don't want the government dictating my benefit package.

      I WANT THE GOVERNMENT TO STOP DIPPING INTO MY POCKET AND TO LEAVE ME ALONE

      February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Mateo

      Your response is too intelligent for many on this board.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  9. Livingston

    Forcing women to have children for all their productive years is abusive and religions should not be allowed to practice it as Mormon are not allowed more than one wife.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  10. schoolsub

    Our Archbishop has stated: If the provisions for contraceptives and abortions are not removed, the Archdiocese will no longer provide health insurance benefits to any of its employees, including over 1800 school teachers. That is how seriously our church feels about this issue. Since insurance benefits to employees are not required by law, then employers should be free to provide either no benefits, partial benefits, or benefits including these contraversial provisions. The type and amount of benefits should be a decision of the employer, not the government.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • John _Atlanta GA

      Great news, drive more people away from the barbaric. cult that is today's catholic church.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Fozman

      Because your employer, the Archbishop, is against having a health plan that covers birth control, they are going to remove the health insurance for thousands of people, some of whom will not be able to get coverage due to pre-existing conditions and will possibly go bankcrupt or have detiorating health because of it.

      Nice crowd you run with. What would Jesus do?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • sam

      What an awesome guy – deny health care to the employees and make an even bigger mess of the issue. Sounds so logical!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • MatK

      The Church can choose to do that, and then pay a $2000 per employee fine for not providing coverage. The employees will then receive a tax credit to help pay for their own health insurance.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • SFRich

      Hopefully the diocese will pay taxes on all their property too, since it's the government that allows them to be exempt of taxes.

      I'm sure those who DON'T believe in Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, or any other religious group currently enjoying those tax-exempt benefits have a legitimate argument in their favor by the same logic.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  11. hilreal

    These are the same idiots that will complain about the number children women have on social programs. If Catholics are oppsed to birth control why don't you see families of 5+ like 10+ years ago when Catholics weren't so hypocritical. You notice the only ones denouncing this are celebate men in the priesthood!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  12. SFRich

    Just another cooked up wedge issue the republicans are jumping on to get some bandwidth. Never mind that the same policies already exist within state laws including Romney's and Gingrich's home states.The policy doesn't apply to churches, but rather then BUSINESSES operated by the churches. Since these businesses don't restrict hiring to only those who believe in the same beliefs, the employees are classified as secular. Therefore secular rules apply. Therefore teh health benefits they provide (by law) must conform to a secular workforce.

    It's simple logic, once someone get's past the veil of their religious beliefs. Freedom of religion means those WITHOUT religion (or with different belief systems should have the rights.

    It's America, not christian America.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Charlie

      We also need FREEDOM form GOVERNMENT. This is really none of the governments business.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  13. Mateo

    Priests should use condoms.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • hilreal

      Those little boys would certainly appreciate that courtesy.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Steven

      You people are sick

      February 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  14. Charlie

    Just more intrusion into private lives by an over oppressive government. My compensation package and what it covers is between me and my employer and does not concern the government. If you don't like the plan your employer offers then move on.

    Obama and his one size fits all needs to go.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • mabarry10

      Sorry Charlie, but enabling adults to make their own decisions regarding birth control is the OPPOSITE of government interference in private lives.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Charlie

      maBarry, the people still have the freedom of choice. No one is forcing you to work fora place that doesn't provide what you want. If I want a dental plan and the employer doesn't offer it, I don't work there.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  15. Mindie from India

    98% of catholic women use birth control anyway – what’s the big deal? I'm sure these women welcome this

    February 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • schoolsub

      And if they do they should pay for it themselves – not through their insurance!!!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  16. PeteH

    They say that everything is funny as long as its happening to someone else. The issue here goes way beyond birth control. It's a matter of one man determining what you must do, whether you agree with it or not. Today its the Catholic church disagreeing with Obama's force-feed. You may not agree with the stance of the Catholic church. You may even HATE the Catholic church. Point is, if Obama is allowed to do this unopposed today, there's a great possibility that he'll continue to do so, sooner or later hitting something close to home for you. If a group as large as the Cathloic church doesn't push back against this right now, good luck to you and your cause down the line. If you're cozy with this, then by all means, vote for Obama again. As for me, I'd rather hang onto my freedom...

    February 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Mateo

      Which party pushed for the Patriot Act and DOMA? No freedom there...

      February 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Storms

      you are truly missing the point. This is about businesses run by the Catholic Church and the benefits they offer their employees – many of them non-catholic. If the Church wants to stand by its convictions, let them put their money where their convictions are. Don't accept tax dollars funded by a country of many faiths if you wish to hold true to only your own. The church is forcing non-catholics into accepting a belief system that most catholics don't even support. And is this economy, leaving your job if you don't agree with that is NOT an option.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Jean

      The same health care should be available for everyone. If birth control is covered it doesn't mean women have to use it if it's against their beliefs.

      How much choice do we really have outside of government policies? When the banks and Wall St. took risks that put us in a recession, did we have a choice about that? When businesses send jobs overseas, do we have a choice then?

      Power will go to someone. Smaller government means more power for corporations and special interest groups. With their record these days, I don't want them gaining more power over me.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things!
    Prayer changes lives!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • hilreal

      The tooth fairy is REAL! My little girl found a dollar under her pillow which proves it!!!!!!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • webknight18

      Yes, it obviously changed you into a retard

      February 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Livingston

      You can pray without a God.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  18. oldg gaffer

    If churches really want a total hands-off from the government, let them buy the right through equal taxation just like "we the People" do. Let's start taxing church properties, salaries, and profits (the difference between collections and donations) and eliminate the individual income tax deduction for donations to religious organizations and charities.

    On the other hand, churches really don't want equal footing, they want totally subsidized municipal services (trash, police, fire protection, civil and national defense) AND they want to dictate to the governments that provide them the terms under which they operate.

    To all this, I say too bad; churches have to play by the rules – all of them – whether they like them or not, and as long as they're being subsidized, they don't get a vote about it.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Charlie

      Then we should tax all non-profits like Green Peace, AFL/CIO,,NAACP, OWS, .....

      February 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • xeno

      Charlie–I agree, we should.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Terry Newberg

      YES!!!!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Nick

      I agree!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  19. RillyKewl

    This is a question of people who are employeed being allowed the same access to coverage that every other employed individual gets. They just happen to be working at a Catholic hospital, or whatever.

    No one is demanding that they use contraception! Just that they are afforded the same access to coverage as if they worked anywhere else. Why is this a big deal? Its basic fairness for the employee.

    If the catholics, or any religious employer, wants to be exempt from the law, they better be paying their taxes.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • randyman99

      Even paying their taxes should not allow them to be exempt from the law. If they don't want their employees to use contraception, then they should ask them that question before they hire them, and discriminate against those who would use contraception. It will be the next human rights issue.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  20. Mindie from India

    Yea, I really don’t think the Catholic Church is in any position to tell others how to live their lives. Remember all those pedophile Catholic priests who abused all those little boys? I think they need a lesson in what Christianity really is and it ain’t abusing little boys and then covering it up for decades.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Steven

      Mindie, that is not just a catholic church problem. Look at statistics of other religions, teachers, etc. The Catholic church has money, and that is why the media goes after it.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
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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.