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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. Republitard

    Are we still living in the middle ages? I thought we stop believing in imaginary people, is it 2012?

    February 8, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  2. maggie

    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.

    Enjoy the food, Rick.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  3. Adele

    I am a Democrat and the farthest thing from Republican, but I think that it is poltically wrong in force employers to provide contraceptives (unless there is a hormone imbalance or some medical reason not related solely to avoiding the birth of a child). My insurance won't even allow me to see a doctor with a co pay or get an X-Ray without paying $10,000 down becaue of pre-existing conditions (rod in my leg and psoriasis). Mental health (for depression, which my mom has) isn't covered on most plans. I think these are priorities because they are essential care. Non essential or optional care (birth control or voluntary plastic surgery, etc...) do not need to be mandated by the government to be covered. It certainly shouldn't make a business pay for something that is voluntary and a choice for a woman to take. If the business doesn't want to pay for it due to moral or financial reasons then it shouldn't have to. A supplement option paid out of pocket should be available to the patient, but not paid by the business. I think insurance should be provided by all employers, but I think it should be for illnesses and chronic disease, not voluntary or unnecessary procedures/pills. I'm fine with contraceptives but it shouldn't be mandatory. People act like this is a woman's rights issue? I'm a woman and I still have the right to get birth control if I choose to purchase it on my own or opt out of an employer plan for my own insurance. That is freedom and not a violation of my rights or anyone elses. There are many more things broken in our health care system. Obama is stupid to get in a fight over an unneccessary issue with the Catholics. 99% of their beliefs are anti-Tea Party, but they are set in the abortion/contraceptives. Why turn away voters (on an issue that is irrelevant and can be obtained in other fashions – i.e. vouchers)? This is not a religious issue as much as a political issue or procedural issue. As for the world having too many people? What? No the world can sustain far more people – it's how we act as stewards of the world. We have enough food to feed everyone and we can cut back on pollution – it's about greed by the top and not the children of the world. I just wish Obama would focus on a single-payer system so I don't pay $200 per month not to be able to get a basic visit to the doctor. Pre-existing conditions can get insurance now – but not really unless you have lots of cash to begin with.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  4. Reality

    Dear Mr. Obama,

    And still waiting for your yes or no on this:

    For your next news conference–

    1. WARNING!!! WARNING!!! WARNING!!!

    To all overse-xed h-o-mo-sapiens:

    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-
    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'"

    Obviously, Planned Parenthood, parents and educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  5. DenverJ

    CNN, tell the whole story; list out all 28 states that already require the same contraception coverage. This is manufactured news. The nation's largest Catholic university already provides for prescription contraception within it's health plan for employees. 57% of all Catholics want this specific coverage included within their health insurance. Get real CNN, where are all the facts? Quit telling a story and provide objective journalism.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • SeattleMM

      You're absolutely right DenverJ!

      And in addition, most American women, Catholic or not, use birth control. And we vote.
      The Catholic faithful don't have to use it just because it's covered. If you don't believe in birth control, don't use it.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Reality

      "Twenty states offer exemptions from contraceptive coverage (usually for religion) for insurers or employers in their policies: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and West Virginia."

      National Conference of State Legislatures

      February 8, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  6. Kevin

    This is typical catholic redorick.
    If they all were good catholics then they should all be virgins when they get married and this is not an issue but evidently they are all not good catholics

    February 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  7. bravemove

    Well well, Obama decided to put on his big boy pants and take on the catholic church, hows that workin for ya?

    February 8, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  8. Granger

    boy, Obama is on a role. He'll get trampled for his incompetence for this action.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • 4 More Years!!!

      Wishful thinking Granger!!!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • maggie

      By whom? Clowns, hypocrites and serial adulterers?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  9. tjaman

    Erm, just because the coverage is provided doesn't mean people are in any way obligated to use it. You can put all the ashtrays you want to in my living room - it doesn't /force/ me to smoke. If such services are against a client's beliefs, the client doesn't need to make use of them.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Reds

      My thoughts exactly. I doubt that every employee who works for the schools, hospital, etc. are all catholic. Even so, a catholic should have the same choices as other women.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  10. QS

    If you are a religious organization that employees and services people who are not affiliated with your religion, guess what, you have to treat all people the same without consideration for your personal religious beliefs.

    Basically, you have to see people as American first before you start trying to pick and choose who gets what based on religious affiliation.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  11. TommyTT

    Suddenly it's 1965 and we're fighting over contraceptives! Folks, an employer does not "give" you health insurance. You earn it (and you'd earn a higher salary if your employer wasn't giving you part of the cost before taxes). You get to spend your earning however you like. Your employer doesn't get to dictate that, and your employer doesn't get to tell you whether or not your health insurance includes contraception.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  12. 4 More Years!!!

    A government sponsored healthcare system would solve this problem!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  13. Lee

    This is insurance. It has nothing to do with a Catholic hospital or anything religious. If you are a devout catholic you will exercise your right not to participate in birth control. Not everyone who works at Catholic businesses are Catholic. They need to stop trying to control the situation.

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

      Absolutely right. You earn your health insurance just as you earn your salary, and you get to spend it however you wish.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  14. Flames

    Religion needs to be removed from government all together. Believe in fairy tales all you want, just keep it to yourself.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  15. clarke

    Do any of this men realize that birth control pills are also used for other female medical conditions and not just for birth control.. Where is it a law by these religious leaders that birth control pills can not be offered. It is law that they should be offered. No one is being forced to take them if that is your belief. I would like to know if vigra is covered? This is stupid not to offer something that is a personal liberty and freedom.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  16. Belgian Girl

    Oh come on, this is 2012! My grandparents had 10 children and my grandmother died at 33 when she was pregnant with her 11th child. Everytime after the birth of a child, when she was not pregnant again after 3 months, the parish priest came to visit them and asked them if they did their "catholic duty" and did not "spill any seed". After my grandfather was widowed and had to take care alone of his 10 children while having a fulltime job, he never saw that priest anymore, neither did he get any help from his church.....

    February 8, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  17. QS

    Ah religion – the world's ultimate dividing force!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  18. Alex Bettinger

    The principle that the right wing is relying on is: An employer, in his capacity as an employer, can never be forced to do ANYTHING with respect to how he conducts his business, how he treats his employees, etc., IF it conflicts with his religious convictions. That is OBVIOUSLY not true. If a business owner required all female workers to wear religious head scarves, we can tell him he can't; if a business owner claims his religion forbids him from paying workers more than $5 an hour, we can nonetheless require him to pay the minimum wage. There is NO First Amendment problem here. If you choose to assume the position of an EMPLOYER, then yeah, you have to follow the same rules and regulations that everyone else has to follow. Don't like it? Don't be an employer. And yeah, stop receiving special benefits from the government and then complain when the government asks you to follow the same rules as everyone else.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Mom in NJ

      Spot on!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Tonylkh

      Your response covered all the bases, well said Alex.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Ray

      Anyone who rights "obviously" in all caps needs a course in persuasive writing.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Ray

      As do I. *writes*
      Ha!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  19. 4 More Years!!!

    Take religion out of this issue!!!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  20. George

    Religion is always getting in the way. If you choose to let it get in the way for youself, fine, but don't let it stop others.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
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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.