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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. Rocky

    wow, I never knew there was such a thing as "the Catholic Vote" where every single Catholic thinks exactly alike and votes exactly alike. Interesting.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  2. WDinDallas

    The article is right, the Catholic support of Obama will be cut by half. This is an attack on the separation between Church and State. TJ would be spinning in his grave. This invasion of state over church is the reason of the Danbury Bapitist letter which caused TJ to state that there is a wall of separation between Church and State. In his day the Bapitist wrote to TJ about the Connecticut government not letting them worship as they wished.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  3. ac

    OBAMA 2012, 2016, 2020.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Thinking7

      Maybe in another country ...

      February 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  4. ac

    Afterall, the Catholics are all such genuine Catholics.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  5. Bobby

    These folks are behind the times. The government is everything. The quicker the government can gain control of everyone's lives the better off we will be. Grow the government. We need nothing else. The government can take care of everything and everybody. I live a very comfortable life off the government. No reason to work. Obama 2012! Hail Obama! Obama forever!!!

    February 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • HaHaHa

      Ya right commy.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  6. Baseball Guy 14

    Obama just keeps leaning more and more left, and he was leaning pretty far already on a number of other issues. This "lean" may cause him to fall. He's lost my vote as it's clear where he's trying to head.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  7. Thinking7

    He lost the Catholic vote a long time ago. The reason is simple. He passed a healthcare bill that does not protect our rights to reject certain things we feel are not right. We will have to pay for insurance that includes cover for abortions. There is no opt out clause for this. If there was an opt out clause, there would not be an issue. Obama is pushing his own views on Catholics. News flash for Obama – You thought you could manipulate America. You were wrong. You're out of here.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Windy City Al

      You've got it backwards. It's Catholics who are trying to push their views on Obama – and the rest of us.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Thinking7

      Windy City – All we want is an opt out clause for the particular part of the health care bill that makes us pay for things like abortions and contraceptives. It is really just that simple. Obama is pushing us far away.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • HaHaHa

      Well stated and spot on.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • douglas

      If you take one penny of Federal money you do not get to set the rules. It's that simple. This is NOT about religion. How about if I opened a hospital for whites only and I decided not to take care of blacks, hispanics and muslims.

      Would that be OK? Is every employee in a Catholic hospital necessarily Catholic? I think not.

      Simple solution – support your Catholic hospitals with Catholic dollars and set your own rules. Don't put your rules (which are NOT laws) on me.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  8. kelvin

    I am not here to judge any one so who is he to judge what i have learn is the one most high judges. I think you should work
    with some one to come to a conclusion not hate that person. And he who with out sin cast the first stone, so meny times i
    lesson to people who call them self Cristian and make people be leave that, but yet they curse,they,lie,they drink,and talk
    negative against others.is that calling your self a Cristian, i don't think so love one another as you love your self .the first president we have on this mighty nation who want to make peace through out the world let it be. when i ride the train or the bus walking on the street of new york i will here people saying they wonder what will be next but now he is gone every one is happy and at peace.Ben laden is know longer ex zest. work together as one some people don't think the one most high don't ex zest but yet they celebrate Christmas they know he was born on that day i know he is call by many name but that's alright with me gust do the right thing and you will end up free in the end may "god"bless every one on this earth and "god" U.S.A

    February 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  9. cathstar

    The Catholic Church's thinking (basically across the board) is so archaic that it's contemptible. They have yet to get into the 20th century, let alone the 21st. That's why they are losing members in droves, one of whom is me. I just can't relate to their various ridiculous rules. They should practice "separation of church and state." If not, they should pay the same rate for property taxes as any commercial business and not be given tax breaks.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Thinking7

      Actually, the Catholic Church is growing faster every day.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • HaHaHa

      Kind of like Islam!

      February 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  10. BRC

    I don't understand how so many people are confused about this. The Healt Care Bill is not an attack on religion, it has nothing to do with religion. It is an attempt to provide all citizens of this nation with a minimum level of care. The goal of the bill, if you are a Citizen of the United States you will have access to certain key medical benefits at little or no cost to yourself. The people crafting the bill determined that many of those essential elements related to women's health, including free access to birth control. So, all US citizens will have access to birth control. To help make it more affordable, adn keep the country from utterly financially collapsing, the government is making employers provide these benefits to their employees. SO, if you an EMPLOYER in the US you WILL provide your EMPLOYEES with health care that covers a "universally " determined minimum standard of care, and a part of that is free access to contraceptives. That's it, stop end of story, it doesn't matter who the employer is, or who the employee is, that's the law, the corporations will make it available to the people.

    No medical professional is required to perform something they don't believe in. No individual is forced to use that insurance to pay for something they don't agree with or want. No one's rights are being violated.

    It is NOT a FIRST AMMENDMENT issue. The Consttution applies to citizens, to the people. It does not protect organizations, companies, churches, anything. It protects people. It says that the People will be free to practice their religion and they are, they don't have to use the insurance, and by making companies fund they insurance they are reduing the government burden, so fewer religious believers tax dollars are going towards things they don't agree with. It also says the governemnt will not aid or stand up a state sponsored religion, and they're not. This law applies to all employers, doesn't matter what religion they are affiliated with (it's just the Catholics griping the loudest). IT is perfectly Consttutionally legal.

    If somehow, someone still doesn't understand this really simple fact, let me know, I'll try to explain it a different way.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Thinking7

      It's not the way you are stating. If you are a Catholic hospital, for example, then the Catholic hospital would have to pay for this coverage for all of its employees regardless as to whether it believes things like abortion and contraceptives are acceptable. It is not a separation of church and state. It is an infringement of the state onto the church and its people. You are wrong. If you were a manager in the insurance industry, you would understand the legalities of it all.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Wondering Why

      Which looks like can only be solved by closing millions of Catholic hospitals. If that is what needs to be done so be it. I can not donate money to place that support killing of babies. I can not vote for baby killer.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • HaHaHa

      No it is socialism, forced!

      February 2, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • BRC

      @Thinking7,
      That's exactly what I'm saying. The beliefs of the employer don't matter, THEY are not protected by the Consttution. It doesn't matter that the Catholic Church doesn't like abortion or contraceptives, they are not legally allowed to push their beliefs onto their employees. Congress has determined that all US citizens will have access to at the very least contraceptives, that means the employer is not allow to deny citizens this access. That is clearly separation of church and state. The state can infringe on the church all it wants, as long as it does it equally to all religions, and that infringement doesn’t make it more difficult for the citizens of the nation to freely practice their own religions. It doesn't matter what an insurance company would say, it's a Consttutional protection, not a corporate issue

      February 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • WDinDallas

      The "Affordable Health Care Act" is 1900 pages of taxes and regulations and 100 pages of heath care initiatives.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • BRC

      @Hahaha,
      Technically you're right. Universal health care is one aspect of Socialism. But is it really a bad one. I'm not saying I agree with the actual execution of this bill. And I'm not generally a big fan of socialism. But is developing a system that ensures all members of a society have access to basic life enhancing medicine regardless of their financial situation really that bad? What about life saving medical aid, shouldn't that be free for all.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Phin

      You consider contraceptive as "Minimum" healthcare? I'm not catholic, and I do believe in using contraceptives, but I can clearly see this as an attack on religious freedom.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • BRC

      @Phin
      I didn't say I do, I said CONGRESS does (the people who wrote the bill). Although yes, I do believe that it should be available to all.

      I don't supopse you can articulate WHY it's an attack on religious freedom? For instance. I have a VERY religious female friend who is in the military with me. Her health care does coverage contraceptives. She elects not to use them. HAs her religious freedom been attacked? How is that scenario different from what the Government is trying to do for everyone else?

      February 2, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  11. Windy City Al

    If the Catholic church or any other religion persists in making public political pronouncements they should lose their tax-exempt status. Because they are now a political, not a religious, organization.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Thinking7

      The state is taking away our religious freedom. This is not separation of church and state.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • RA

      Religious influences are being used to take away freedoms from those who are not religiously influenced. Via laws. This is not separation of Church and State. Right Thinking?

      February 2, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  12. Nick H.

    It is well past time for the Catholic bishops to grow a spine and stand up to the anti-Christian liberals in the Obama Administration. Catholic doctrine forbids most forms of contraception, and it is the duty of the bishops and the hospitals under their supervision to remember their obligatoin to serve God and not mammon. If the Obama Administration refuses to back down and attempts to compel Catholic hospitals and health service providers to violate their doctrine and their consciences, the bishops and pastors need to proclaim their opposition from their pulpits, publications, and media outlets, especially as the general election approaches.

    The Catholic Church, under Pope John Paul II, was instrumental in bringing down Communism in Eastern Europe. In the 19th Century, American Catholic leaders like Bishop Hughes in New York, stood up boldly against the Know Nothings and helped diffuse the movement. Catholics, both lay and clergy, vigorously fought the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, helpng to defeat the organization's anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic terror. A new challenge exists, now against anti-Catholicism under the guise of secular humanism, as opposed to militant Protestantism. Catholics must remember their heritage and fight as their forbears did.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Wondering Why

      Same here. As Catholic I am sick and tired constantly been bullied. Its time we all stand up. I donate and support Catholic hospital which provides free healthcare service. If people dont like Catholic religion they can go somewhere else.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  13. Chickenhawk

    As a life-long Catholic, I'm much more proud of my President than I am of the Catholic Church these days. Sure, Catholics have the right to uphold their religious beliefs, but not at the expense of everyone else. If the Catholic Church would spend more of its millions on helping people in need, rather than waste it fighting policies that could benefit many people and changing its masses to better reflect archaic Latin phrases, it might be more respected worldwide. I'll proudly vote for Obama this fall, so count me in the 54%.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  14. dt

    All religions have major issues with their influence peddling. I believe that anyone is free to believe what ever they want, but when a religious organization tries to modify or create political policy for a government then it becomes a real problem. This is a generic issue – whether Catholic, Muslim, or Mormon.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  15. Rob

    A few years ago was smokers, now is a religious faith, Fat people are in the works, next ??? don't complaint when it is your turn, most of us will be taken out one step at a time of our faith, gender, race, hobbies, personal freedom.. Divide and Conquer and too many idiots turn their face because it is not their cause.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • bff

      Grassy-knowl guy? The world is only a conspiracy to take away all your rights?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • William Demuth

      Rob.

      It is my cause. I want the feds to smash the Christian cult, and put all the molestors in prison.

      I then want it taxed. I then want home schooling made illegal, and I finally want ALL charitable donations to no longer be tax deductibel.

      Whats your cause? I bet I am winning!

      February 2, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Rob

      bff the truth it is all fine and dandy as long as you don't go against the liberal agenda. that's all.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Joe T.

      Why are cigarettes legal and marijuana illegal? Cigarettes kill far more people. Last time I checked Rob, you can still smoke.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Rob

      William Demuth it is not over yet.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • dt

      Rob, I think you are completely missing the point. Catholic medical facilities want federal money but – they want to dictate who they give it to. This is just plain wrong and your comments reflect just exactly how wrong. I was raised a Catholic. A family member was a nun. When i was very young visiting this person she referred to black patients (she was a nurse) as 'darkies'. That was a common and accepted slur – by good Catholic nuns. It also was that one of my best friends had a different color of skin than I do. He was honorable, trustworthy, and has been a life long friend. That issue was a turning point for me – the degrading slurs by people representing a religion, and one a relative. I wanted to vomit on the spot. WRONG IS WRONG, no matter if you wrap vestments around it or not. If Catholic hospitals want federal money then stop discriminating against the current in vogue target of your intolerance. Defense of bigotry and discrimination is evil.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • bff

      Do you honestly think your gender and race are ultimately in danger? When you said that, I think "whoa!"

      February 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  16. William Demuth

    Religion is dying here in the US.

    You can't keep the boys and girls isolated on the farm anymore.

    The internet and modern communication is permitting non-believers to resist the dogma, and we are turning the corner.

    MANY MANY Americans are seeing how these degenerate old men have held power for too long. Voices of reason are finaly speaking up about the scam of Christianity. Liars, charlatans and degenerates.

    Their days are numbered. Prosecutions are coming, defections are growing and the money is drying up.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Ronny

      Wishful thinking William 🙂

      February 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • DamianKnight

      Christianity isn't going anywhere, no matter how much of a tired, violent diatribe you want to go off on. 70% + of Americans and 33% of the world aren't just going to up and stop believing. And even if it were to somehow, possibly happen, you will be worm food long before it does.

      Charitable donations being taxed? Are you insane? (Wait, I already know the answer to that. 🙂 ) Here's my thing. Most of the wealthy do charitable donations to avoid paying taxes on the income. So, if you start taxing those donations, the wealthy have no incentive to give to charities...and they dry up. Sure, you're going to have some people still donating, but the amount of money will decrease significantly.

      Before you start going off on your quasi-Third Riech vitriol, you might think of the ramifications to others, namely the less fortunate...you know, the ones who don't have a voice on the Internet.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  17. Sharin'

    Even though many Catholics use contraception, don't attack their Church.....it will be interesting to see Obama go down if we all unite.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Blasphemy

      When the Church attacks you, by all means hold the Church responsible.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • MarkinFL

      If you all unite, I strongly suggest you use protection!

      February 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  18. Bill Fike from Bloomington, IL

    I think this is either one the most incredible political mistakes of the century, or may turn into one of Obama's most brilliant political moves! Even though I am a political conservative, and I am supporting Rick Santorum; I respect Obama's intelligence and political savvy. He knows that he lost many of the Catholic vote in the last election because of his pro-abortion stance. I predict that in about 30 days he will come out and reverse Sebelius's decision, thus saving the day and get more of the Catholic vote than during the last election. On the other hand, if he stands by Sec. Sebelius's decision and will not reverse it, Obama is commiting political suicide!

    February 2, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • dt

      The Catholic church has already committed political suicide. Wrapping a belief system around molestation and bigotry and then attempting to create a divisive issue out of that wrong – that is suicide. The church needs to look inward, not outward, for its evil targets. If you are a real believer then you believe in Fatima. Study what was suggested by that revelation – it was about corruption and evil from within.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  19. streetsmt

    If you are a hospital that takes federal money, then you can't say "I will only serve people with white skin." In the same light, you can't say" I will not offer certain legal, prescribed drugs to women."

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

      If you are a bank can you say it is against my religion to give Government loans to Papists?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Rob

      they serve people of all races, color and gender but now the gov is forcing them to either obey against their beliefs or just hire or care for their own and discriminate against others. it has worked so far, not sure why change it. I don't have health insurance at all and I am happy where I work.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Joe T.

      Well then Rob, you are one of the fortunate few who have not had medical problems. I'm thankful I was able to get affordable health care through my employer. When I was diagnosed with skin cancer, the treatments would have cost $1000's.

      Just pray you don't need to go to the hospital for an extended stay or you are gonna be in some trouble. Ask the church if they will be willing to pay for your medical expenses.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  20. Blasphemy

    If the church does not want to offer modern and complete healthcare then GET OUT OF THE HEATH CARE BUSINESS

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

      Exactly. Just because you find birth control morally wrong it does not suddenly turn birth control into something other than health care. The same thing is true if you find the causes of obesity to be morally wrong - it doesn't turn the treatment of juvenile diabetes into something other than health care. If you find smoking tobacco morally reprehensible we also don't pretend that treating lung cancer is suddenly off-limits to dollars collected from you through your insurance premiums.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • DeeNYC

      those hosiptals were established to help the weak and vulnerable. then swoop in and try to convert them to while they're laying on the recovery bed.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Ronny

      It's a free country and they can offer or not offer whatever health care they want. Well, it used to be a free country anyway... before Obama.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Blasphemy

      In this Pre=Obama "Free Country" was anyone allowed to prescribe or deny medicine without adhering to the standards laid down by the Government?

      February 2, 2012 at 11:06 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.