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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. Bill

    What kind of BS story is this? Why is the media constantly ripping on Catholics or starting controversy about Catholics? How about the Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Methodist, Episcopalian, etc... vote?

    February 2, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • Tony

      I agree. This is ridiculous. But there are a group of people out there that feeds on this crap.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • MG.

      Obumbles, already lost the Jews and the religious right and I don't think the muslims want him back either!

      February 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  2. Ray E. Georgia

    Humm,
    If I'm not mistaken the Majority of Catholics vote democrat. So live with it!

    February 2, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • ltjdangle

      catholics are conservative you moron. not liberal.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Maertee

      As the article said, Obama won the Catholic vote in 2008.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • BRC

      Catholic is a sect of Christianity.

      Conservative is a designation of political leaning that has historically favored limited government interference in personal lives and businesses. They also trend towards "traditional" family values.

      Liberal is a political designation that historically favored increase government support and interactions with society (generally at teh cost of increased taxes adn government spending), and a willigness to embrace more personal freedoms
      and alternative lifestyles.

      religion does not equal political affiliation. The conservatives would do much better if they would seperate themselves from the religious-right. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. And besides Jesus was as much of a communist as you could possibly imagine (he is the deffinition of communism in it's pure non-messed with state. The way Marx thought of it not Stalin's perverted form).

      February 2, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • MG.

      Hispanic catholics mainly voted for Obama in 2008 giving him a slight edge, but they won't this time if the church takes a stance against Obama's degredation of the !st amendment forcing catholics to pay into Obamacare and its abortion clinics! ...Hispanics are very conservative on issues like this.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  3. Brett

    Yes, please Catholics, use a condom when you're raping your little altar boys. When these people stop living like they're in the middle ages, I'll care about what they think.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  4. Irishcat

    YES! President Obama will lose Catholic voters, and rightfully so, he needs to stay out of religious beliefs, and concern himself more with the economy.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  5. maggie

    “James Salt, executive director of Catholics United …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.”
    Really, James, you’re just now figuring this out? You don’t think most Catholic women already do? Where have you been, my man? Does anyone think that this kind of latent thinking is why the Catholic Church has lost so much of its flock?

    February 2, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  6. Dick Hertz

    Glad I didn't vote for him! He won't see it in November either.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • maggie

      And chances are, your decision not to vote for him before or in the future had nothing to do with birth control so your point is?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  7. CoJo

    I was raised a Catholic, and I say from my point, they are very narrow minded group of people. Yes they help others, but they will help them the way they want to help them. Catholics are very non-acceptance of other religions period. They don't realise they more they push, it turns people off. If pushed enough, others will start to think negative of them.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  8. The Film Professor

    Oh really? It seems, as usual, that almost all of the people speaking up in this article in opposition are men, men of the Catholic Church hierarchy who oppose women using birth control and having the choice of when to have children. How controlling, how pathetic, and how sad. You guys might want to ask the women how they feel about this. But then again, I know you don't care about that and you have NEVER cared about that.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • marie

      Get over yourself Professor of Film! Is that even a area of study? Watching movies! The church has its values if you don't like them move on. Obama has no right to step on the values of the church. If it was a muslim issue the left would be all up in arms, but since it is christian they don't care. Now it is like "how dare they"

      February 2, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • jimtanker

      Respecting the rights of all people is not equivalent of stepping on the church. Get over YOURSELF.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  9. John/kc

    Santorum is playing to the catholic voters when he says that if POCUS, he would make ALL forms of birth control illegal. I would say Santorum isn't doing very well in the polls. The church is run by a bunch of old men that have no ideal how much it costs to raise a large family. The church can preach all it wants about this subject, but being one of them, I would say that over 90% of all catholics in the USA do practice birth control regardless of what the church preaches.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  10. johnny popper

    President Obama is losing everyone's vote who is horrified at his out of control, WAY out of control spending. He looks good, speaks well, but he, predictably, has turned into an absolute nightmare.

    Speaking of voter bases, yes, I cannot imagine why any good Catholic would vote for a pro choice, avid supporter of using public moeny to pay for abortions. Duh?!!

    The only voter base he has locked up is the base dependent upon public handouts and he has increased THAT base significantly. This is the base which would not exist without public money, university wacko professors making 175k for writing "papers", government workers (people who work for the government should not be allowed to vote – talk about your conflict of interests) and the standard recipients of public subsidies. President Obama would not get 15% of the vote if patronage was eliminated.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Maertee

      Define "good catholic"? What % of Catholics are good? Most voted for him in 2008 when he was pro-choice.

      And as far as patronage is concerned, should we toss out all the red staters who receive farm subsidies and the "keep the gov't out of my Medicare" fox geezers?

      February 2, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • TAK

      "university wacko professors" – The smartest, most educated people are considered wackos by conservatives. That should tell you all you need to know about the conservative mind.

      I am not so much a democrat or liberal as I am an anti-conservative. I will always oppose their brand of cross-carrying, anti-intellectual hooliganism.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • FL Voter

      Not so much. I own my small business, and I've never taken a dime from the government. I work seven days a week and I create jobs in this country. I can't wait to vote for Obama in November. Funny thing, my red-state relatives who ALL take government handouts (disability, welfare, food stamps, etc) are the most hard-core republicans I've ever met.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Tony

      Maertee, How do you think he paid for his health care reform? He is borrowing money from Medicare. People need to understand one thing, this is not about conservative vs liberal, Ron Paul is right, we are broke. Obama is like a guy who has no money and walks around telling homeless he is going to help and writing checks. Who is going to pay for it? We all will. Obama is not for the middle class because instead of using our money to pay our debts and keep everything running, he wants to overspend.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  11. CoJo

    The Catholics have to reminder, if they don't like the strings attached to the help, they can do it alone. Like they do it with Catholics schools. Don't ask for help if you do not like the rules of the game.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • kap

      They are not asking for help. They are asking to be left alone and to be able to live how they believe, which is they way it has always been since the being of the USA. Did you even read the article??

      February 2, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Maertee

      CoJo is correct, though. This would not be an issue if the Catholic Church didn't take federal money.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  12. simp

    who cares what the catholic voter think, they don't decide anything and let's keep it that way.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  13. Kevin Crowley

    Any Catholic that votes for a serial adulterer like Newt Gingrich, but can't vote for Obama needs to get their morals checked.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  14. SaintM

    Catholics need to shut their sactimonious mouths until justice has been served and they have reconciled with all the children that were abused by priests over several decades. Hypocrites all of them.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Tony

      Pretty general statement there. All the Catholics need to apologize? So you are saying we are all responsible for the actions of some. Well then, I hope you are not associated with any group or nationality that has ever done anything wrong to anyone ever. Wait, you are human aren't you?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  15. Bob Dobbs

    Why "Catholic?" Obama has lost the votes of all decent people.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • TAK

      You conservatives are anything but decent.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Tony

      @TAK – Nah, you are the decent one. After looking at your posts on this, you are just decent as hell!

      February 2, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  16. Richard

    No he is not losing the Catholic vote. Almost all Catholics use birth control. They disregard that area of the Catholic doctrine. That is why Catholic families are no larger than Protestant families. What a stupid article.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • judy

      I'm a Catholic and a Democrat, he's losing mine. Catholic families can be modest size without birth control which is wrong.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Mary Jane

      Correct. The last I heard was that more than 95% of all Catholics use or have used artificial contraception. The Catholic church also needs to realize that the 70,000+ people they count as Catholics in the US is incompletely inaccurate. Most of them are either non-practicing, or have joined other religions, or have simply left the Catholic church and have no religion.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • maggie

      Judy, the answer is simple. If you don’t believe in contraception, don’t use it. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one. That others have to emulate your decisions is what is wrong.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • KMW

      Mary Jane,

      The Catholic Church is also gaining in numbers. We do not Catholics who do not follow Catholic doctrine. I wish those leaving the Church much happiness and joy.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • KMW

      I meant to say we do not NEED Catholics who defy Catholic teaching when I was replying to Mary Jane. Sorry for the omission of the word need.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  17. Mikithinks

    This is one of those "becareful what you wish" traps. Look at England, France, Spain or Italy for their history of combining religion with power. We had bloody Mary, Christians fed to lions, the crusades. Too many holy wars, and not enough holy leaders. When our founders came, or were expelled, to this country, they wisely said we're not going to have that here. They did not push their faiths, but their values. I don't care what religion a canidate states he is, but by his deeds we shall know him. Unfortunately, saying." I have changed". does not meet the high bar of the presidency. We do reap what we sow.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Bruce

      There's another "be careful what you wish for" aspect to the "look at what's happened/happening over in Europe" argument. Take a looksy at the birth rate among different demographic groups in Europe and what is happening to their population, their culture, and the demographic mix over time, and ask yourself what role birth control plays in those trends.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  18. Dave

    Obama is losing everyone's vote. Things are much worse now than 3 1/2 years ago. Check the numbers on the economy, debt, cost of living, etc. Wake up America!

    February 2, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • TAK

      In your world, is the sky blue?

      February 2, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • John/kc

      So you would rather vote for someone that dumps his wife for his mistress while wife is on death bed with cancer? Someone that was fired from his job by his own party because of dishonesty? May you would want someone that hides his money in the Caiman Islands and Switzerland to avoid taxes, flip flops on just about every issue, and fires Americans, sending those jobs overseas every time he can make a buck on the deal whether it's treasonous or not. I will stick with Obama. He has done a remarkable job considering what was happening when Bush left office.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • maggie

      So, is your answer to vote for candidates who can’t seem to articulate a sound policy to fix it or to espouse the same policies that got us here in the first place? Has it occurred to you that perhaps the reason change has been slow to come is the miserable performance of this congress, without whom, this president has generally been unable to act?

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

      Dave,

      Agree. Good bye Obama and welcome Ron Paul.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  19. Jon

    Well... look at it this way. Churches are exempt. It's the schools and the hospitals, really.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  20. ItSOnLyME

    There's "a" Catholic vote? Since when are Catholics a monolithic voting block? Next story please...

    February 2, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Yep

      slow news day.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:58 am |
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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.