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. jmurphpy

    This is interesting. Losing the Catholic vote? The whole article quots men. The fact that contraception is a private matter of personal responsibility is no body elses business... certainly not the business of the power structure of the Roman Catholic Church. This is the largest and deepest faulth line in the Roman Catholic Church... there are others. Pope John Paul I was know to have a deep understanding of the implecations of families managing birth control in order to be able to provide for the family.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Obamabus

      If it's none of their business, then why should they be forced to pay for someone else's "private matter of personal responsibility "? They aren't saying contraception should be illegal; they are objecting to being forced to pay for something against their conscience. Why can't so many ignorant posters grasp this. This issue has nothing to do with taxes, the legality of contraception or abortion and so many other pet peeves of the intolerent morons.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  2. William Demuth

    Like they are gonna vote for a MORMON?

    Intra-cult rivalry wont allow it.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  3. annamaria44

    This WILL be a big deal when it ends up in court- this is a matter of Const. law

    February 2, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  4. tampasunshine

    Is Obama losing the Catholic vote?.......Yes......and all other religions are watching and taking note.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  5. DeeNYC

    Do they deny little boys tucks medicated pads after they violate them?

    February 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  6. tony

    I don't get it you will not pay for contraceptives for your employees who are already using it claiming it is against your religious belief but you will do absolutely nothing to priests who violate little boys and girls I am talking about the catholic church if you employ people you should be responsible for your employees healthcare. Jesus Christ was definitely not a conservative when he call people you all hypocrits so judgemental. JESUS WAS A LIBERAL BECAUSE HE COULD JUDGE PEOPLE BUT WILL NOT SO WHO IS MAN TO JUDGE. I have no respect for religious belief my respect is to GOD.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  7. Dzerres

    The vast, vast majority of Catholics don't follow the Church's teachings on birth control so what's the big deal? It's just a bunch of old, crusty, white, child abusing clerics who are making noise here. No one is listening anyway. Even Gingrich, Mr Catholic has been divorced twice and married three times! Hypocrites, all.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  8. Roger/Kansas

    It's time revoke tax exempt status from all religions.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  9. Marge

    Not only because of these Catholic Priest getting up in front of the parish and telling them not to vote for President Obama, there have been numerous cases of Preachers and other Priest trying to tell the public how to vote and what to do politicially. I think it is time that each time a Church mixes in politics there should be an investigation and their tax free status should be revoked. It is not fair to let them to continue to not pay taxes and they practice politics. In that case each and every American could do the same I mean why aren't we tax free. The reason they are tax free is because they are not political and her they go and do what they want and dare someone to do anything about it. Write your congressman and the IRS.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  10. Glenn Doty

    Catholic hospitals and schools employ non-Catholics who are simply there to teach children or aid the sick.

    Devout Catholics don't have to go get contraception, they simply cannot use the workplace to deny honest workers who don't share their faith access to contraception. It's that simple. Catholic churches are exempt because there is no logical expectation that the staff will include non-Catholics.

    No-one is being forced to take contraception... but no-one is being forcibly denied contraception. This seems fair to me.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  11. anth

    Yup! times up! Want it on your forehead or on your wrist?

    February 2, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  12. Blasphemy

    Contraceptives are good for Catholicism

    If everyone else is using birth control they could cut down to 5 children and still out breed the rest.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  13. The Don

    When are people going to get ovet this ridiculous notion that Obama is Muslim; furthermore so what if he is! I am so tired of religion being brought into politics

    February 2, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Darth Cheney

      If they aren't over it yet, they'll never be. Letting go of that is tantamount to letting go of their hatred of him.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Rob

      To Don,
      I agree completely. I wouldn't care if our President is atheist – I think he's doing an amazing job and besides being a Catholic who is voting for him, I'm a proud American who is voting for him. Obama-Biden 2012

      February 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • OvernOut

      To Rob: Five in our Catholic household, including two voters new to the Presidential elections. That's five votes for Obama/Biden in November.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  14. mm

    MOST Catholics use birth control. But, they will use whatever excuse to bash this president.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • annamaria44

      Hello, religious liberties violations, per Const. law. That's the bottom line

      February 2, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Blasphemy

      How does my wearing a rubber violate your religious liberty?

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

      The Consttution protects people, not organizations, there is no violation here.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  15. Eric

    In other words, all you Catholics out there, sit down and shut up!

    February 2, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Lulu

      I am a Catholic and I do not have to sit down and shut up – I have the same right as you so speak what I believe. By the way, I voted for President Obama last time and will certainly vote for him this year.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  16. annamaria44

    This federal mandate is a clear violation of religious liberty, which is a cornerstone of the Const. I really see this case heading to court soon.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • annamaria44

      You guys can bicker about the implications of this all day long, but it comes down to Const. law, period.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • myweightinwords

      It is not a violation. No one is forcing Catholics to TAKE the pills. The mandate very simply demands equal health coverage for all Americans. Period.

      So a Catholic organization must provide the same insurance coverage as any other employer. There is nothing preventing the Catholic church from preaching the archaic idea that contraceptives are a bad thing and telling their congregations not to take them.

      However, not everyone who works for a Catholic organization is Catholic, and should not be denied equal coverage.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  17. maggie

    From reading all of these comments, it is pretty clear that those who voted for Obama before are likely to do so again and those who didn’t, aren’t going to next time. Catholic or not.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • etd

      I will not vote for him this time around.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  18. iou220@hotmail.com

    Is Obama losing the Catholic vote? There has never been a bigger pro abortion president in history and you wonder if Obama is losing the Catholic vote? I think Obama should worry more about losing his soul.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • maggie

      Obama is upholding a law that has been in place for 39 years. Ever wonder why all of those conservatives who campaign on promises to repeal Roe v. Wade have not done so? In 39 years?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      You think he's actively trying to convince women to get abortions?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • myweightinwords

      What exactly does that mean? "Pro-Abortion"? Is he campaigning for pregnant women to abort?

      I hardly think so. I believe he said that abortion should be legal and available and rare. That hardly sounds pro-abortion.

      I mean who is pro-abortion? I support legal and available and inexpensive abortion, but I still think that it is the last resort, to be used in situations where other options are not viable.

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

      Why do you people care more about a tiny dot than you do the woman and her family who's lives could be altered in a hughly negative way by another child? Do you know how many of those children who are unwanted will be abused, neglected and killed? You care for the unborn but have no compassion for the living. I just don't get it. And if you're against what you call killing, then how can you send young men and women into combat against other living people. The President isn't losing his soul. He's allowing compassion, common sense and the law mandate his agenda. I don't want some white male hypocrit telling me what myself and what my family can do about such a deeply personal issue.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  19. Tim59

    There are some religions, e.g. Christian Scientists, that don't believe in any medical care. Their religious liberties are being violated by the simple existence of any mandatory health insurance.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  20. ElectionTime

    hmmmmm......He is Muslim, sooooo not sure why Catholics would vote for him in the first place.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • mm

      And he is not a legal citizen. Oh, and Elvis is not dead!

      February 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • DeeNYC

      everyday Catholics are sounding more and more like muslims. We don't live in a tribal society but catholics sure behave like they do.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Blasphemy

      Sounding more like Muslims?

      I am having a hard time seeing a distinction.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:56 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.