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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. JG

    I'm an atheist. I believe in people. However, I'm fine with others having their own beliefs. Although, I draw the line when it comes to this. Reproduction has an impact on all of us. Society ends up paying for unwanted children. Let's be realistic and show some common sense. Let people manage their own bodies.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Bruce

      What evidence do you have that people are trustworthy? What evidence do you have to prove that it is better to believe in people than to be a cynic?

      February 2, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • David from Maryland

      Do unborn babies get to manage their own bodies?

      February 2, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  2. David from Maryland

    Yes, for those Catholics that care about the Church's teachings, he lost our vote during his first year in office. Do you remember how the healthcare law was passed? Do you remember the Hyde Amendment?

    Having cafeteria Catholics in your administration doesn't compensate for his anti-life and anti-religious freedom policies. And it's not just us Catholics, many Christians have already decided one term is enough.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • McShannon

      The same policies were in effect duriing the Bush Administration were you outraged then also?

      February 2, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  3. sortakinda

    Just go onto the NY Times website and look up "abortion. " You'll see articles about Obama lauding the Roev. Wade decision on its anniversary. Then look for anything about the March for Life that took place in DC that had thousands of pro-life advocates participating and you'll find NOTHING. If Romney picks anyone who is breathing and has a brain as his VP it'll be "so long, Barack!"

    February 2, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • toppgunnery

      Thank God this niggger is out of here in November. What a nightmare!!!

      February 2, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Perry

      I completely agree! Time to kick Obama and his cronies to the curb!

      February 2, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • ....

      "Thank God this niggger is out of here in November. What a nightmare!!!"

      Another low self esteem comment, seriously get some professional help.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • McShannon

      If you have a daughter in college and you haven't considered that she needs a method for birth control then abortion may end up your last resort and in your case a new grandchild.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  4. toppgunnery

    catholics delcare rubbers as a method to keep nigggers from having moe offspring. Now this is NEWZ!!!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • ....

      Another low self esteem comment only proves you need professional help. Grow up.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Nothing like a little bigotry and racism to start the day!

      February 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  5. Annie

    I have to laugh at the fact that whenever there is an article about religion, the non-religious ALWAYS have to chime in. And their comments always have to include something derogatory....Why? Why do you read an article that has NOTHING to do with you?!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • JG

      Ahh, but it does have to do with us. All of us. It is ignorant to preach against contraception and self-preservation, no matter the religion. It has an impact on society as a whole if there are children who are being born to those unable to care for them. Then, someone else has to.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • NoMoreFairyTales

      Because we pity you folks who still believe in the fairy tales of youth. You were conditioned when your mind was young and malleable and you failed to form rational thought on your own.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Bruce

      Whether President Obama wins reelection or not based in part on how American Catholics feel about how birth control is funded has nothing to do with people who aren't convinced of the existence of God?

      February 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Annie: Pot meet kettle...stop spreading the lies in accordance with your only book that outlines anything about your imaginary friend in the sky and we'll stop putting the truth out there and stop calling you out on it....until then we will remain.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • anagram_kid

      Annie,
      Religion has absolutely no constructive useful purpose anymore. We know why the sun rises, we know about bacteria. We know how to use logic and the scientific method to solve problems. The only purpose religion serves is to allow people to control others and provide a rational for behavior they know is contrary to moving civilization forward. We don’t need religion to have charity and other good deeds. We don’t need religion to have laws. WE DON”T NEED RELIGION.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  6. TERMATER

    IT IS VERY SAD TO SEE THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA HAVE DEFINITIVELY LOST THEIR WAY...JUST LIKE THE ROMAN EMPIRE LOST THEIR WAY AND NEVER FOUND IT BACK...

    February 2, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Sulla

      Just a minor nitpick. The Roman "Empire" did not lose its way. The Roman Republic lost its way, giving rise to the Empire. It was already within its death throes by then, its best days long behind it.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Most of the world considers America to be an empire at this point.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  7. organically

    Religion is the biggest scam in the history of humanity, as proven yet again

    February 2, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  8. mbh

    It always amazes me the anger, real hate that atheists display on these boards. who are you REALLY upset with? Be honest!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • PulTab

      Do you suppose it's possible that we are upset with people who support pedophile priests?

      February 2, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      No anger...it's hard to angry at stuff that does not exist. Where it is easy to be angry is when that stuff that doesn't exist starts to play a role in anything public...anything that steps on everyone else's rights!!

      February 2, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  9. tony

    I worship no man,religion,church man with robe, turban etc i worship GOD the roman catholic church is built on thrived on the backs of african slaves hypocrits.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  10. Sean

    I am catholic and OBAMA has nothing to worry about with my vote... he is a GREAT LEADER and has my vote in 2012!!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  11. Krow

    If your mythology affects how you vote then please ... stay home ... let the smart people run things. Besides, you're going to heaven and all that stuff. Let us handle this plane of existence while you contemplate playing that eternal harp.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • AncientWorshipper

      I'll vote for whichever candidate believes in my god - Zeus.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • GeeEmCee

      Define "smart".

      February 2, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  12. oldsoldierboy

    These people are trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill. How many people who work for the catholic church do you think is going to have the courage to ask their employer for condoms? Answer: None

    February 2, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • FormerCatholic

      The priests are too busy not using condoms on little boys.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  13. McShannon

    Catholics in America have limited the number of children that they have through family planning and common sense. I am sure methods to prevent pregnancy are used other than abstinence privately and discreetly despite the proclamations from Rome.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  14. FormerCatholic

    As a former Catholic, I will vote for whoever has LESS of the Catholic vote. If those nutjobs don't approve of someone, then that person is probably doing something right.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • ksuflash

      Those "nutjobs" voted for Obama last time dimwit....so, I guess you'll be going republican this time around.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • sortakinda

      The two largest religious groups in this country are Catholics and former Catholics.Your opinions represent neither.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • GeeEmCee

      I believe the Catholic church has legal grounds.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  15. Chris

    Poor poor mythology nuts. You don't like it, get the F out of this county.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Ainjeh

      Idiot

      February 2, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  16. toppgunnery

    blacks are breeding heavily now and shooting thousands of gallons of semen out nightly. Lots of apea are getting preggo and we have no use for more of them in our midst. Git rid of Obama and the ape birth rate will go down!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • .....

      You need to seek help for your low self esteem issues. Grow up.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Veritas

      You are mentally ill.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • toppgunnery

      since when is telling the truth decleared as mentally ill, especially so by psychiatrically unqualified nor educated monkees???

      February 2, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • CF

      You are educated...Then I definitely dont want to be. Facts, you wouldnt know a fcat if it smacked you in the face. By the way, I'm absolutely sure you would only say what you said on this site...because you are a coward and that's a fact! Now, make the assumption that I'm black.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  17. Annie

    He never had my vote.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      b/c you're a christard...your delusions already get in your way of reality

      February 2, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  18. Joe

    Obama believes in mythical hope and change and catholics believe in a mythical God – soounds like an ideal match

    February 2, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  19. https://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/01/is-obama-losing-the-catholic-vote/comment-page-9/#comments

    I

    February 2, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  20. fistface

    I say we separate Church from State. I personally don't need special interest groups and those that want to enforce their Social Agenda... Liberal.. or Conservative.. on me as an average American Citizen. The houses of Religion do not belong in the houses of Legislation... and the Houses of Legislation do not belong in the houses of Religion. Plain and simple.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • jimbean

      but you can trust the C@tholics!!! Look at their stellar track record when state and church are mixed (538AD-1798AD)
      The bible was banned, millions of people were tortured and killed. Many of those same dogmas and edicts are still officially part of the creed (right to punish "heretics")

      February 2, 2012 at 8:44 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.