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. El Flaco

    Organizations have no rights. Only people have rights. Employers who provide medical services can't impose their religious beliefs on those who do not agree with them.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Eli

      Wow, you really just dont have a clue do you?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Travis P

      Orginizations may or may not have rights per se. However, under the First Amendement, people do have the right to organize. Also under the First Amendment, they have the right to freely practice their religion. No matter one's stance on contraception, it should be evident that there are some serious 1st amendment tensions here.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • SkiOne

      Religions have rights, the right to have no law made that interferes with the practice of their religion.

      Sadly though, aside from that, as a result of the Citizens United verdict (and others) corporations have near personhood rights.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • BRC

      The religions themselves do not have rights, that's not the wording. The government cannot make a law to interfere with a CITIZEN"S free practice of religion (a religion can't practice itself).

      As for the corporations, yes, they are getting dangerously close, but they still are not recognized as having the same rights as people (and they never ever should be in my opinion).

      February 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • J.C.

      "Organizations have no rights. Only people have rights."

      Organizations are groups of individual people. Do those individual people lose their rights once they organize with other like minded people? I say no. More importantly, the USSC agrees with my viewpoint.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  2. Chuckie

    The Obama Administration continues to act as if WE don't have a choice. As if WE don't have the right to object to his policies, without being labeled racist.

    In fact, we aren't racist when we object to policies such as the abortion/birth control mandate. Obama has acted in a way that offends and harms American Catholics, among other groups. I find the insistance by this Administration that these policies don't conflict with our First Ammendment Rights to be a bald face lie, at best.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • StuckInTX

      Oh cuckie.. puh-lease! Read some of the other comments. No-one in the Obama administration is mandating ANYTHING to Cathollics on BC. They are mandating that the Catholic Church – as an EMPLOYER that provides health benefits – provide the SAME health coverage that other employers do. BC happens to be contrary to Church teachings, but unless the GOVT mandates USE of BC for Catholilcs (which they HAVE NOT) this is much ado about nothing. And I'm Catholic.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • WASP

      @chuckie: you find obama's attempt to help lower the STD rate in this country infringing on your religious rights? i find the few catholic extremists fighting something they don't understand to be ignorant and fear driven. the catholics that don't believe in using contreceptives are both putting others at risk of passing on a STD and encouraging teen pregnacy. which is just flat out rediculus. said it before will say it again, if your daughter gets pregnant or catches a disease that a condom and birth control coupled with a female diaphram amoung other things could have prevented then you have no one to blame but yourself. regardless of what you may preach to adolesant humans about not having intercourse good luck,they are animals. driven by horomonal changes in their bodies and a not completely developed frontal lob which creates inhabition to certain actions and the patience to reason the consiquences. so catholics or the ones fighting against this law to move us forward, are basically saying they don't want to fight the spread of AIDS or other diseases along with stating they wouldn't mind their, mother, sister, aunt or daughter to be legally bound to carry a rapists child to full term, and having to deliever that child. so people need to stop and think before they start spouting off at the mouth about things meant to help them.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  3. mullahfullahbullah

    I wonder what repercussions there will be if the religious affiliated hospitals and organizations just ignore this mandate. I am not the religious sort but I do not think that government should have a say in religious organizations unless there are dire ramifications and in this case there is not.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • mms55

      well i don't think religion should be in politics but their always there trying to force the rest of the country to follow their dogma.i think they should all lose their tax excemptions or get out of politics.i believe there's a higher power but its not in these so called religions,you do not have to belong to organized religion to believe.get rid of the middle man and you will be free.in other words take man out they corupt everything they touch.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  4. dudeuloose

    more government control=less freedom=slavery

    February 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  5. ajgorm

    You can call yourself a catholic or something else it all boils down to a conservative leading a liberal not the other way around when it comes to God and religion.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  6. John Arechar

    I, a Catholic, do not oppose the government mandate. I wrote to the Archbishop of Atlanta asking him to see the bigger picture and to have faith that those provided the healthcare coverage free and clear of restrictions be allowed to choose to follow the Church's beliefs and practices.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Eli

      How about the requirement of Catholic hospitals to provide abortions? What about that one Mr. Big Catholic?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      You are not a catholic and this is not just about birth control. The "morning after pill" is opposed by every catholic I know because of it's abortive nature, and it's being mandated by the Obama administration. Or are you one of those Pharisee-like catholics that only pay lip service to the church but don't actually believe in it's tennents?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  7. SkiOne

    I support Obama and the health care law but this is a clear violation of the separation of church and state and a terrible political move.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Travis P

      Agreed. It's stunning that he has betrayed Catholics in such a way. We have been a majority democrat voting block since before the Kennedy's. Not only does his betrayal hurt, but its in clear violation of the 1st amendment. Very sad.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • StuckInTX

      There is no violation of Church/State separation, 1st amendment rights, nada. No-one in the Obama administration is mandating ANYTHING to Cathollics on BC. They are mandating that the Catholic Church – as an EMPLOYER that provides health benefits – provide the SAME health coverage that other employers do. BC/Abortion happens to be contrary to Church teachings, but unless the GOVT mandates USE of BC for Catholilcs (which they HAVE NOT) this is much ado about nothing

      February 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  8. Bayousara

    Don't priests practice birth control by being celibate?

    February 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • bff

      another loophole!

      February 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • SkiOne

      Abstinence is the only approved method of birth control by the Catholic Church

      February 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Pastor Grace

      President Obama has my vote!!! Perhaps the Catholic church should give back a portion of their 501 and that portion could be returned to the government and used to pay for those portions of the policies that the Catholic church is in disagreement with. They might want to also become more proactive in providing programs that will keep members of their clergy from raping young boys too.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  9. Herne

    Organized religion was designed by old world leaders as a means to more easily control the mostly uneducated masses...it still works.
    Organized religion needs abolished from ALL political and government establishments.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Taskforce4256

      This would require that dictatorial powers be granted to the governments involved. Do you really want to do that? It works both ways. There are some religious types who would love to burn you at the stake.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  10. george in texas

    how do we feel when the religious mus lim cab drivers refuse us a ride just because we have a six pack beer with us? or when they don't sing the national anthem? the catholic establishment should appreciate that the wider national interests being served here which they should not, as good americans, subordinate to their dogma. it is not as if all the employees working at catholic hospitals and schools are catholics. besides, most catholics do use birth control measures any way. if your own flock don't care about your dogmas, why force them down on others?

    February 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • SkiOne

      Personal choice vs government imposed mandate are clearly 2 different things.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • StuckInTX

      SkiOne – do tell ! Where does personal choice come into this?? There is no mandate requiring Catholics to USE BC! That's a totally asinine assumption. The mandate is that the Church (as an employer) provide the same health choices as other employers. No more, no less. The Church doesn't like it as it's not in line with keeping their flock in tow. No-one is forcing any Catholic to USE BC or have an Abortion.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  11. ajgorm

    God Is !

    February 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  12. ajgorm

    Funny thing that I can post today , God must want you all to know your fate .

    February 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • nate lindsey

      Contraceptives is something that should be decided by the individual, and if it is against their religion. They should make the decision to either abide by the curch requirements or use contraceptives. No church members should be forced into paying for contraceptives nor should any organizations be penalized for refusing to pay for contrceptives. I believe that this problem could be solved if the President and Catholics can like christians shoud come to a simple solution agreeable to all.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  13. Terr

    I can't believe the comments on this site. Does no one see that this has nothing to do with Catholics and everything to do with the govenment telling us what we can or can't do. When the government enforces their beliefs on you, you can bet all of you will change your story. All of you.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Travis P

      Yeah, it is scary. I wouldn't have guessed this would happen a year ago. It hits home when they come after your own faith, even when you are not one who considers yourself very religous.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • mms55

      i cannot believe people in this day and age think religion should be in our politics,that just blows my mind.i do not want my country ran like country's in the middle east.we are not iran we are not a theocracy and never will be.the church doesn't have a right to discreminate agains't its employees plain and simple.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Pastor Grace

      I completely understand what you are saying, but we can't have our cake and eat it too. It seems that Americans want the government to do everything when it is convenient for us, yet we complain about too much gov't spending. There are citizens in this country who want certain things and have voted for them and won. The president must oblige them too. If companies wont help then that means that the gov't has to take it up. No. I don't agree with abortions, but the reality is that it is legal in this country and happening everyday. Somebody has to pay for it. What we need to do is pray.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • StuckInTX

      @Terr – "Does no one see that this has nothing to do with Catholics and everything to do with the govenment telling us what we can or can't do."
      Did you even read the article or are you merely use this as a rant? The GOVT is NOT telling Catholics that they use BC or have Abortions!! It's telling the Church that (as an EMPLOYER) they MUST provide the same health care choices as other businesses do. If they don't want to do that, then they should not be running a business. It's the same for any other EMPLOYER, regardless of RELIGIOUS affiliation. Get it now ?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  14. realistic_voter

    I wonder how many of these same Catholics would take issue with these provisions if they were part of their employer-provided health plan.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Eli

      Idiot. Most of our employers do offer this. It is the fact that they are requiring our schools and hospitals to provide it to employees. Not to mention, they are requiring our hospitals to provide abortions. My family will not be voting for him again. He does not care about Catholics. If it were a Muslim belief he would give exception, but not for us!

      February 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • StuckInTX

      @eli – quite honestly, your comment has got to be the most asinine comment yet. You need a reality check. Seriously!

      February 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  15. ajgorm

    I have connected the dots and I want you all to know when you get there" it aint gonna be easy" .

    February 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  16. Tony T

    I am a Catholic and he never had me so he certainly can't lose me. How any Catholic would or could vote for this athiest, pro abortion fake and phony is beyond me.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • wcl

      If he's an atheist, he's got my vote.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • comeatmebro

      Obama is not a atheist, he is a member of a Baptist church, you may not like it but it makes him a Christian

      February 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • PaulMc1981

      LOL. You can call Obama many things, but he does not seem like an atheist.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Pastor Grace

      But you Catholics have not launched a "stop raping young boys in our churches program." Have you? Who pays for their recovery...the courts, etc. Hippocrate

      February 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Pastor Grace

      But the Catholics have not launched a "stop raping young boys in our churches program." Have they? Who pays for their recovery? Hippocrates...give back your 501 and do what you want. That way the gov't can pay for it out of the non-profit status. Don't throw the baby out with the water. President Obama is a great man and he can't please everyone!! I know that much.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  17. digital18

    WOW. I can't believe how dumb some people are. It explains how Obama got elected. The Catholic church has been against birth control for years. They ask/tell catholics not to use it. That message has not changed in years and years and years.
    But catholics continue to use birth control, not a problem. The catholic church does not have to pay/provide for it in their health insurance benefits, they have a long history of being outspoken against it. If this goes to any federal court, the catholic church will win based just on the message over the past 100 years. If they lose, there is no hope for america.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • maecb51

      I agree. What ever happened to separation of Church and State?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Travis P

      Agreed. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" I thought this was pretty straight forward.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • StuckInTX

      This has nothing to do with the religious aspect of being Catholic. It has to do with the Church as an EMPLOYER and provider of health care choices – providing what other employers do. The fact that their religious stance is anti-BC/Abortion is well understood. This ruling has no impact on that. Every other church is required to follow the same rules.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  18. clarke

    Boy oh boy, people are not very bright. This article is making a big deal out of nothing., he is not telling you what to do or not to do. However, if you want it, it is there. The church is one telling people you can not do this, you can not use any form of birth control. Well I hate to tell you how many sinners are out there. But it is ok for some presit to abuse little boys. I think people are nutz.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Terr

      Sorry Clarke, but he is telling us what to do.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • StuckInTX

      @Terr – how is "he" telling you what to do? Do please explain. DId you read the article above or just see another opportunity to take pot shots ?

      February 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  19. Scott

    It's not just Catholics that won't be voting for him. The snake oil salesman is losing significant votes from every voting block except for the racist black population. They are the only ones that would vote for him even if he started biting the heads off of small children.

    The rest of the country has seen what a fraud he is. "Hope". "Change". blah, blah, blah. All of those buzzwords that he used to attract the votes of the unintelligent are useless this time around. He didn't have a record to attack before. Now he does. His record of failure dwarfs GWB's last 4 years in office. Americans are fed up with his finger pointing blame game, and want to see results. It's clear that Obama isn't interested in producing results. All he wants to do is deflect blame and try to sneak into a 2nd term. Sorry Barry, but your time is up.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • BobInIrvineCA

      Man, what planet have you been living on? Planet FoxNewz?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Scott

      Planet Earth. You should come down off the acid and join us in reality.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Mike

      Scott, do you watch much FOX news or listen to Limbaugh constantly??? You are way over the top on your 'opinion'. I am white and Catholic and definitely WILL be voting for Obama. Maybe you should vote for Santorum who would like to outlaw contraceptives and think there should be no limits placed on drug companies to provide drugs that people can actually afford. I am really tired of Republicans manipulating the faithful (via abortion and gay rights) to support going to war for their rich friends invested in the military industrial complex to needlessly kill huge numbers of people (say in Iraq) for profit. I am also tired of the Catholic church pointing a finger at anyone else for anything after their continuous and ongoing misshandling of pedophile priests. The Catholic church should use ALL of their fingers to point to themselves. And I also find your remarks about Obama to be very racist... but you didn't learn to be racist from the church, did you???

      February 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • StuckInTX

      Oh Scott – if your the typical right-wing voter, Obama's gonna coast to a 2nd term. LOL 🙂

      February 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  20. ajgorm

    I figure most of us are going to you know where any hoot !

    February 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
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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.