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February 1st, 2012
09:23 PM ET

Is Obama losing the Catholic vote?

By Eric Marrapodi and Brianna Keilar, CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

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

soundoff (2,744 Responses)
  1. Diest

    Only the Catholics who belong to the .001 % that wealthy and bigoted as well!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  2. Tina.Hill

    I always thought that the Woman had the right to choose who the father of her children is going to be? Think about it...

    February 2, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  3. John Stevens

    When the Bishop's letter was read in our church on Sunday, I walked out and may not return. It is a blatant political statement that is unacceptable to me. It is very clear that in the Catholic Church today reproductive issues - abortion, contraception and others - trump every other issue. They do not speak out forcefully on any public policy that affects the quality of life of children once they are born. The church lost incredible moral authority when it covered up known cases of priests abusing children and transferred known abusers to other parishes. The latest complaint that religious freedom is under attack is hypocritical from an organization that would use the force of law to impose its views on the entire society.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  4. wilypagan

    What a one-sided article. The only Catholics quoted were those in the hierarchy, supporters of the pedos. How about an interview with some organizations representing rank and file Catholics? As a tax paying woman, I support Obama's policy that all organizations receiving our tax dollars not discriminate in health care services provided. How about some real analysis CNN, rather that citing the bishop blather like it is fact? Catholic women like their personal rights as much as anyone.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  5. TexMan

    As long as Obama keeps Dream Act 2 on the table and supports medicaid, wic, snap, food stamps and housing assistance for illegal aliens and their children the Catholic Church will keep supporting him.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Bill

      the dream act was introduced by republicans as an alternative to legislation the president introduced. as soon as it passed, they changed their mind and are againist it. republicans don't care about american, unless it benefits them first.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  6. phyl

    As a Catholic I wish the Catholic religion would take an HONEST poll of all of their followers...Have you ever used any form of contraception other than the rhythm method? Have you as a female had any form of tubal ligation to prevent having more children that you could not afford? Have you as a male had a vasectomy? How much money have you put in the collection basket to help pay for the millions/billions used to pay for lawsuits for all of the pedophilia? Is there any hypocrisy here?????

    February 2, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Bill

      up yours buddy

      February 2, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Veritas

      @bill: Bill sounds like he is one of those infamous catholic priests maybe?

      February 2, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  7. Carmen

    Nobody is making you get the prescription filled!!! As a devout Catholic, you can always abstain or have more babies.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • TexMan

      Yeah ......... keep those anchor children coming.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  8. Reality

    Only for the newbies:

    o What Obama can do to at least lift part of the Immoral Majority leader label?

    He says abortions should be "safe, legal and rare" but says nothing about the basic tenet of proper human conduct i.e. Thou Shalt Not Kill. And where is BO's sense of indignation that abortions are not rare and that these acts of horror demean the Golden Rule considering that he says he is a Christian. And where is his sense of indignation that women who use the Pill do not use it properly resulting in an failure rate of 8.7% as per the Gu-ttmacher Inst-itute statistics. Using these and other Gu-ttmacher Insti-tute data, this failure of women to use the Pill properly results in ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies every year. And the annual abortion rate in the USA is?? ~1,000,000 as per the CDC.

    And do males use co-ndoms properly? No, as said failure rate for this birth "control" method is 17.4%!! Again using Gu-ttmacher data, said failure rate results in another ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies every year.

    The Gu-ttmacher Insti-tute (same reference) notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

    Bottom line: BO is still not aware of the basics of birth control and still remains the leader of the Immoral Majority and will remain so until he becomes a true Christian and one who respects and protects human life in all its forms and who at least emphasizes the proper use of birth control methods!!!

    The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing (and largest?) USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • smb

      So I'm immoral because I believe families should have the right to make decisions best for them?

      How loudly were you ranting about immoral behavior when it was the Church participating or covering it up?

      There is nothing more immoral than the abuse of living breathing children.
      And nothing more cowardly than sitting silent while it happens.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Reality

      Why did today's pope, prelates, preachers and rabbis, so focused on society's se-xual sins, lose sight of clerical se-xual sins?

      FEAR, SHAME and GUILT and COVER IT ALL UP!!!

      Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

      Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

      Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.

      Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have se-x with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy"

      Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods

      Neither is being an atheist or pagan since pedophilia is present in all walks of life

      If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Clinton, Cardinal Law) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

      February 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  9. A Catholic

    Well, he has lost my vote for sure. Amen

    February 2, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  10. bill.x

    No, the president is not losing the catholic vote. if anything, he will gain mor of it, as catholics will not be fooled by a high class leader of a cult.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • christian

      some say the bible predicts the end of church times, as a false leader will lead them to it's demise. this sounds like it is coming.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Duh...

      "some say the bible predicts the end of church times, as a false leader will lead them to it's demise. this sounds like it is coming."

      Christians have been saying that for centuries since Christ died, it's getting old. Brainwashed cult people like you need to get professional mental health.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • smb

      Are you talking about the current Pope, christian? Because he may lead to the end of the church.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  11. Debbie

    People need to remember that the Catholic church is made of a very diverse population. We're not all older people of a single hue left over from the dark ages. Roman Catholic priests do not have the ability to understand the need for contraception and why they continue to teach against it is rooted in something also from the dark ages. They need to focus more on protecting children from priests who molest them vs. what couples do in the privacy of their bedrooms, etc. All of the cardinals and bishops in addition to the Pope need to pull their heads out of the sands and stare reality square in the face for once.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  12. BloomingHere

    If churches are going to run non-profit businesses i.e. hospitals and schools, then they need to provide the benefits required by the government to all their employees. They can run their church however they want, but if it's a business (even a non-profit one), it needs to run like a business. Get rid of all these "oh, except for us, we're different" clauses! I'm sure they want their medicare reimbursements. If they're happy to take the government's money, they also need to give the required benefits. It's not like all their school and hospital employees are catholic.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • rand

      "REQUIRED BY THE GOVERNMENT.........." some people just don't get it! The FEDS shouldn't be requiring ANYTHING. WHY??? Because it's only the beginning of what the FEDS will REQUIRE....

      February 2, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Veritas

      @rand: Then these religious hospitals etc should also not require to be tax exempt.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  13. Alex

    I guess the real question is, would you want the vote of an organization that has done more to encourage child abuse than any other organization in the history of the world? You don't see politicians scrambling for the KKK vote either (the GOP already has that vote locked down, anyway).

    February 2, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  14. K.C.

    SGK...cuts funding to PP for mammograms and not one catholic bishop or cardinal say's anything about it. So as far as I'm concerned if Catholics feel threaten then GOOD. This country doesn't pay homage to the POPE.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  15. Nick

    The Supreme Court will knock this out of the ballpark just like they did with the Lutheran Church decision a couple weeks ago. Obama will be 0-2 and probably a lot more by year's end.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  16. mrbias

    This is all Bush's fault!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  17. Jack from Georgia

    Hey folks, it's simply what Obama knows best. His arrogant self knows best. He does not believe in the people's right to govern themselves. He is our big brother and he knows best and if he says so then that is how it is... It's his form of a transparent government. NOBAMA2012!!!! HELP US GET THERE. VOTE AGAINST OBAMA AND VOTE BACK FREEDOM!!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Tina.Hill

      Go white power go!

      February 2, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  18. WASP

    ok a little education for the angry masses out there. who is responcible for the poor level of education? who is responcible for the horrid conditions of our health care system? who is responcible for our government whether republican lead or democrate over spending? who is responcible for the high unemployment rate? who is responcible for the high crime rate in this country? who is responcible for religion becoming a front line issue? i could go on and on but the answer to all these questions is YOU. americans failed america, they shifted jobs over-seas by not buying made in america, prefering the cheaper foreign made brands. this caused business to move to those locations and build more factories to keep up with our demand. the schools are crude because few parents contribute to the schools their own children go to, they don't offer time or fianicial help to a stuggling system.....their child fails it's not the parents faught it's the schools faught. governement spending? well let's say if folks watched more congress channel and less mtv or evangicial network then maybe you would know what is going on in your government, instead of complaining on a blog.....yet still doing nothing to truly educate yourselves as to what the thing in question truly saids. crime rate; yup americans again, i have watched people walk right past people being robbed, or females being beaten and doing nothing to help. trust me i have helped when i come upon it. it is the america population to act as one body and display aggression toward those that would break the law, not coware from them and say it's not my problem. religion becoming a threat to civil freedoms, americas are to blame again. everyone rattles sabers about this law or that motion that might help the whole but inconvience the few, but heck as long as we can pat ourselves on the back and say i'm using my right of free speech without using your responcibility to knowledgible speech is ok. let's vote for a guy that is wanting a catholic version of iran, which by the way if santorum does win election he will hand this country to the vatican on a silver platter, he will get his orders from the pope.......reminds me of old jolly england remember them? remember why we seperated from them. if americans would stop all this horrible display of childish behaviour.....or better said spoiled behavior you would all realize the government through time has played you all for fools. they have restricted your freedoms due to your inseant crying, they have over spent due to your fear of being attacked, they have let education fail due to ignorant masses are easier to control. they placate you all with games and shiney objects just like roman did before their fall. keep playing into their hands or educate yourselves and take back your country.......if i may offer reading material start with the declaration of independence and work your way forward.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • NPost

      Thanks for the post. Unfortunatly most people are too busy with their own lives. As modern TV shows us, superficiallity is something to be valued. Its shiny. Keep the faith.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  19. Rob

    Catholics? that is laughable! Why because of this new policy? Grow up. We need to stop the stupidity of solving our problems because of religious beliefs. The Pilgrim's DNA is roaring in the USA!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  20. Henry Viii

    Most everyone in our parish takes contraceptives, we just don't tell the priest. He doesn't understand, anyway, because little boys rarely get pregnant.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:01 am |
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About this blog

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