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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. mrgmorgan56

    The health and welfare of people trumps petty religious beliefs in "ALL" cases.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • MerlinX4

      Translation: "The End Justifies The Means."

      February 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • James

      Well opinions are like noses, everyone has one.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Tracy Richardson

      You embarass yourself.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Tracy Richardson

      You embarass yourself with your ignorance.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • James

      Also, who are you to say what is healthy and well for people. Your not Michelle Obama

      February 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  2. Yormama

    Birth control restricts future the supply of people willing to hand over money to the church. Why should they be for this? That's like biting the hand that feeds you. Even dogs know how this turns out.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • James

      Birth control restricts the number of people the goverment has to pay for from cradle to grave. So start aborting babies and that wellfare crap will not be so expensive.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  3. doug taylor

    1st of all, there is nothing in the law which compels one to take birth control. It only allows one who may want to use it to have "free access" to it. This law is for ALL women concerned to have the same privileges, thereby discriminating against no one. This is a wolrd apart from conservatives who want to tag it with Big Brother and Government Interference as if to suggest that women are compelled to use contraception. lastly, I couldn't help but laugh at Santorum's statement about the president "imposing his secular values" on the country. This IS A SECULAR COUNTRY, you moron ! And its not like Santorum wouldn't impose his Christian ideals on the nation and its public schools, like Creationism, for example.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • cathyinca

      No one on the right is saying that women will be forced to use birth control. This is about the government forcing the Church to offer a benefit that they are morally opposed to. Have you even READ one article on this issue??

      February 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Alan

      Yes, I agree. Outlaw all churches, not just the catholic church. Make them all pay property taxes. Also, Santorum is a flamming a...hole

      February 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • James

      Once again, not about forced use. It's a rights issue. Stop repeating Obama talking points. Keep your politics out of my religion. You see it works both ways

      February 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Cindy

      The issue isn't about forcing anyone to use birth control, it's about requiring Catholic employers to pay for that birth control. I'm not Catholic, but I work for a Catholic school and I don't think the nuns should have to pay for my birth control.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • andrea

      I see cathyinca has endowed us with her wisdom again... This isn't about churches' rights, it's about how a business must conduct itself, and treat it's employees. These are employees who deserve the same benefits as other employees. Do you prefer abortion? Should they just do that if they can't afford to pick up their pills that month??

      February 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  4. Matt

    I'm not even an Obama supporter but from a strategic standpoint there is no reason for Obama to capitulate on this issue. democrats and independents do not care about this issue – only the right-wing zealots are creating this shizstorm.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • MerlinX4

      Thomas Jefferson would like to have a word with you...

      “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

      The First Amendment actually is kind of a big deal.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • MC

      “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

      So I guess pacifists shouldn't have to pay taxes to support the military? Or is your concern only for right-wingers?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  5. Roger

    I am not a Roman Catholic. I have no problem with the pill, but the decision by Obama scares the hell out of me. When the government tells me or someone else that I must do something that violates my conscious WE HAVE LOST OUR LIBERTY.

    If the RC church does not want to pay for something they find unethical leave them alone. No one is stopping a women from getting these srevices. Their privilidge to get them is not hindered. When you go to work for a religious organization you know your employment conditions are going to reflect their beliefs. If you do not like it do not apply to work there.

    Are there no limits to what the government can make us do? I am begining to believe that in the Obama world there are none.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Boohincus

      It appears that you're some sort of right wing hysteric playing the wolf in sheep's clothing game. Put it away. Go home and go to bed. It'll all be okay in the morning.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Big El 42

      This law does not force catholic woman to use any of the health care provided. It simply makes it available. Each woman will decide for herself what to do w/her coverage.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  6. Prayer changes things

    Atheism isn't healthy for children and other living things

    February 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Chartreuxe

      That's one opinion. Other points of view differ from yours and mine. As a Christian, I remind you that we have separation of church and state in this country for good reasons. Let's keep it that way. Otherwise, what religion would be taught in schools? Yours? Mine? Judaism? Islam? Evangelical Christianity?

      Oh, no, that particular can of worms must remain forever unopened, just as the Founding Fathers intended.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  7. Vince

    Why is this a big deal? Even most Catholics take birth control and don't want to be knocked up constantly.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Sunny

      The big deal is no insurance, no taxpayer, no employee should be paying for sterilizations, birth control, contraceptives.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • nebraska

      So then Sunny, people who do not want children or cannot have children should not be forced to pay for coverage that covers pregnancy. Most people of child bearing age do not have a choice when it comes to their insurance in that regard either.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Chartreuxe

      Sunny, you don't get to pick and choose. Nor do I.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  8. George Marshall

    What the Catholic Church is saying is that employees of hospitals and other facilities of the church who want birth control medical coverage should be denied it. It is not an issue of freedom of religion or separation of church and state. Use of contraceptives is not mandated. The Catholic Church has not emerged from the Dark Ages.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • charlie

      can we please just start taxing religion? there is no reason we should let these cults go untaxed

      February 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  9. Mindie from India

    Opression and Control is the foundation of the Catholic Religion.
    Does anybody really care what the Catholic Church thinks? I mean they can't even keep their pedophile priests in order. Who are they to be telling women how they should live their lives.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  10. longtooth

    As an ex-Catholic, I must say it's too bad the church didn't react so forcefully to the issue of priestly pedophilia. How many bishops spoke out against it in the early stages, and how many priests spoke of it at mass?

    February 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  11. GrnBrtMedic

    With all due respect to the Catholic Church, this shows just how out of touch with reality the Upper Echelons of the Catholic Church remain with "common folks". The Average American Catholic, WANTS Birth control- and too bad for the ancient, misogynstic oriented Church. Look at the History- originally, the Church was anti-female anything- blaming Woman for Original Sin. But didn't ADAM have t make the choice- he could have said "NO". The Church was formed within a time-frame when Women were little more than Propoerty of Fathers and Husbands. And despite how Societal views have changed(mostly), the Church "Can't Budge", or that implies a wrong reasoning at some point in time, and "The Church can NEVER BE WRONG". What Hogwash!!! Glad I'm not Catholic!!!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • William

      Have you even read the bible? Christianity is horribly misogynistic. I was kinda/sorta raised Christian. Then one day I read the bible. As soon as I was done reading it I decided I wasn't a Christian anymore. Between all the woman hate and killing I'd prefer something more peaceful. Slaughtering the first born sons sounds like a real bad way for an omnipotent being to end a conflict.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  12. NZA

    I'm sure that people that work in places run by Catholics can already access birth control through their health provider, whether the insurance is paying for it completely or not. No one is forcing anyone to use this resource, it is merely being provided. If the health insurance can cover the costs of childbirth, I would think covering the lower cost of birth control would be insignificant in comparison. Are there any Catholic insurance companies? They should be the ones upset about this. The other places are merely providing the health insurance and what their employees use it for is truly none of the employers business.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  13. Paul

    I am Catholic... well, let's say I was born Catholic ... am not really religious and don't give a damn about what the church says.
    However, I have and actually use my brain.
    One thing I think Catholics, like any other people who are religious, should learn is that they cannot impose on others their believes.
    You think contraception is wrong? Fine don't use it.
    You however cannot hire someone and decide for her if she should use or not contraception, it's your belief, not hers, so as an employer who provides healthcare coverage, you provide the employees with an health care plan that is law abiding, meaning it covers for contraceptives.

    This is not the government imposing stuff on you, it you who cannot impose your belief on others.

    Grow up

    February 8, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  14. andrea

    It's not about beliefs, it's about employee's rights. We have a problem with unwanted pregnancies in this country, birth control should be easily accessible... but they want to outlaw abortion as well. Should we not prevent conception to reduce the need for abortions?
    Stupid people.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Saboth

      I've never understood that. It's far far cheaper to provide birth control than to provide births/lifetime healthcare for a person, yet insurance companies would rather do the latter, and fight tooth and nail against birth control.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • cathyinca

      Birth Control IS easily accessible. DUH!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • andrea

      cathyinca, it's accessible to those who have money, or insurance that covers it.... so insurance should cover everyone... period. Duh? are you 12?? Do you say "duh" a lot? It sounds very ignorant. Sorry no one has had the time to let you know that.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  15. Saboth

    Ok, ok. You guys don't have to follow employment laws. We just require you give up your tax exempt status.

    Just because you run a "religious" hospital doesn't make you exempt from US law.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • andrea

      They make billions, but don't want to be treated as every other business... Their tax exemption is disgusting in my eyes, profitable to tell people how to live their lives, profitable to act like god appointed them, profitable tax evaders.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  16. tomben

    AHHHH is so fun to look at the comments from the Liberals... after any story they fill the pages with such creative names to call anyone who does'nt agree with them! It's like watching elementary kids getting into an arguement and out name call each other to win! No need to make sense or be on topic... just think of the most clever insult... and if it RHYMES... OMG! look at the children run around and high five each other! Such clever children!

    Reminds me of the OWS movement... loudly celebrating their right to free speech while shouting down and preventing anyone else from having theirs.

    Any clever names you can think of to call yourselves?

    February 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Paul

      useful comment .. thank you sooooo much .. wow, God must be proud

      February 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • stevepaa

      when you have something related to the discussion item, pleae post, otherwise you are a troll

      February 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • hippie power 69

      i consider myself a catholic and a liberal and its not about forcing anyone to do anything they don't want to do but please offer me the same consideration. i always took and used birth control because after 3 children we couldn't afford to have anymore. when the catholic church pays for my children then they can tell me how many i can have. the men who run this church have never been married or had children or had to pay bills to keep a roof over their heads or food on their table. when they do then they can tell women about how and when they can have children. who do they think they are? shame on them i think they should lose that tax exempt status as long as they are telling their congregants how they should vote and whom to vote for.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • tomben

      No one is stopping anyone from accessing birth control. The Catholic church is saying that is against their belief to provide it or to advocate it. Fine. Get your birth control somewhere else. Why force people to do what they don't believe in to save someone else a drive to the pharmacy? If it's about money... if you want it go buy it.... if you want your employer to pay for it and they don't offer that insurance plan... go work somewhere that it is covered. HUH... that was was not hard to solve!

      February 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  17. karen

    I am wondering if any of the insurance offered by the catholic universitiesor hospitals offer coverage for a man to have a vasectom

    February 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • James

      They don't

      February 8, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Mindie from India

      but men can get all the viagra they want on their health insurance. Why do I have to pay for a dysfunctional man to get it up?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Paul

      Mindie ... see that's the only way Catholics will manage to reproduce .. they need Viagra, see unfortunately their God who did make miracles and resuscitated from the death .. still can't manage to make its males followers to get it up ... poor God .. may be he is too in need for Viagra

      February 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  18. Cheryl K

    Romney is an idiot. Obama is only saying to all religiously affiliated companies/organizations "you MUST cover birth control. You MUST provide this option to women." He is NOT telling the people who are using this health care that they MUST use birth control. Hey, if people are religiously affiliated to their workplace and it goes against their morals to use birth control then BY ALL MEANS they don't have to and Obama is not telling them they must. But if their conscience and personal belief system tells them it's okay to use birth control then let THE PEOPLE make the decision, NOT the corporation/companies/organizations or the government. But it should at LEAST be an option and it SHOULD be covered!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Mindie from India

      98% of catholic women use birth control anyway – why is this even an issue? Is the GOP trying to stir up trouble again, and again, and again?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Veritas

      And next he'll probably say that every Islamic Mosque MUST provide a ham to all their employees at Christmas, right? But they don't have to eat it, so it's okay, right?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • William

      He's forcing them to go against their beliefs and offer things that go against their religion. If they were a medical necessity I'd support the move, but since abstinence is a choice there's no reason to force them to go against their beliefs and pay for birth control when alternatives exist. Birth control isn't medically necessary. It's a quality of life enhancement. Like botox, implants, etc. If you really want it you can pay out of pocket for it.

      It's not right to demand that they go against their beliefs and offer a quality of life drug that doesn't treat or prevent an illness. If it cured a disease, or prevented one, I'd support it. But alternatives exist. Free alternatives.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Veritas: Worst analogy ever. Nice try though.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Sarbear

      Amen!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Saboth

      @ william. He's not forcing anyone to do anything. If people don't want it, no one is forcing them to take birth control. Obviously, the vast majority do want it, but the "hierarchy" of the church don't want to provide it. Too bad for them, employment rights trump their pride and power.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  19. James

    I like how many see Religion as restrictive rules. Many people of faith don't feel that way. If you don't like rules, then why follow the government? All the rules of the Goverment have surpassed the Bible long ago. Your basicly making the Government your religion.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  20. Steve

    This is a fabricated issue. If you choose to run a business in this country you must abide by the laws. If you cannot abide by the laws then you should not start a business. If this were not the case then any business could pick and choose which laws they want to ignore and then claim they can do so for religious reasons. I do not like that my taxes supported the killing of civilians in war but I choose to be an American citizen and abide by its rules.

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

      LOL.....stupid comment!! You obviously have no clue

      February 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Boohincus

      You have struck the nail squarely on the head!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Boohincus

      The only clueless one here would be the catholic girl, cathyinca

      February 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Pat

      I think this is insane. Let the Catholic church cover what they want to cover. Nobody is forcing a person to use their coverage, or be employed by them. That is a choice. If a person wants to work for the Catholic church, and be insured by them, they agree to those specific terms, which include contaception not being covered. Why is the government involved in this? Orwellian. at the same time, we have freedom of speech and separation of church and state. to just accept the government, as is, and allow atrocities to happen, and loss of freedom to choose, in the name of governement imposed equality is socialism. , "to be an American.", is Un-American. People have fought and died for our freedoms. To just cave in and allow the goverernment to impose? Insane!

      February 8, 2012 at 4:26 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.