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.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

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. EgoSumLamia

    Catholics don't use birth control? ~falls over giggling madly~ Am I the only one who finds it ironic, the pope who is unmarried, wants to legislate birth control and the population?

    February 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Its not suprising.

      20 years of marriage 7 kids and we never used BC, we also never ask for Government help, never took unemployment . We recycle everything, donate as much money as we can and go out and help elderly and sick.
      Why is that surprising? I am sure millions of others (Christians, Muslims, Jehova's Jewish etc) do the same thing.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  2. magazine012

    Time to make an honest person out of a Catholic. C'mon you rollypolly fat guys - your parishners have been taking birth control for years!

    February 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  3. Rita

    I am an African American Roman Catholic, and Obama will not be getting my vote.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Descarado

      Peace be with you.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Don Jones

      I will double my financial support for Barack Obama. There is no place in our country for hypocritical religious thugs, if you want to live in a theocracy- give Saudi Arabia a try.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  4. John Danger

    Republicans can't win the Catholic vote in a presidential election year anymore. Republicans won't win in 2012 because they are anti-Catholic on issues of social justice, war, Palestine . . . the anti-Catholic, anti-Vatican positions of the Republicans are too numerous to name. This is why Obama won a majority of Catholics.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  5. Leslie

    I'm a catholic. My relatives are catholic and we're all using birth control. It's just one of the many things about the catholic church that isn't applicable in this day and age (or the last 50 years).

    February 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • John Danger

      And can you believe the gall of CNN to quote archbishops as though they represent us? Poll after poll shows that most Catholics are like you and their family members, not the minority of right-wing extremists represented in this story.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Its not suprising.

      Then you are not Catholic. YOu are only pretending to be one. Quite frankly I don't even know why. You could spend that hour on Sundays doing something else.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • David

      The point is not whether or not you believe contraception is Ok or not. Its whether the Government should be able to dictate to parochial schools on what they have to provide in health coverage. If you are a Catholic who believes that contraception is fine, thats fine. Start your own school. Just let church-sponsored schools do what they believe is right.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • A. V.

      You are most certainly a catholic. How does the saying go, he without sin... If that's the case, none of us are ever Catholic.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  6. I_want_a_moon_base

    I'm a Catholic and I am voting for Obama...The Catholic Church is outdated and out of touch with the world...It is far better to use brith control, than to have kids born to unwed teens and/or to people who really can't provide a good, safe, healthly, happy lives to the kids they give brith too.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  7. Descarado

    Catholics must follow our conscience and oppose the Obama regime with the same fearlessness The White Rose Catholic students threw in the face of H i t l e r and his Gestapo.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • BRC

      Yeah, how dare he endorse laws he didn't actually write that protect everdy individual's right to freely seek whatever medical attention the feel is necessary for their own body.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  8. Bill

    So...separation of Church and State is a one way street?

    February 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  9. Sakeneko

    Obama is in real danger of loosing not just Catholics, but other practicing Christians who oppose abortion and yet voted for him because we're not all political conservatives and believed that he would at least not put us in the position of being legally required to pay for something we find to be an abomination. :/ It's one thing to disagree on an issue, and a completely different thing to enforce your views on those who disagree for conscientious reasons. The "morning after" pill isn't just contraceptive: it prevents a fertilized egg from implanting. By the standards of the majority of pro-life people, that's an abortifacient. I support birth control. This isn't birth control; it's killing a living child.

    This ruling is a betrayal of more than just his Catholic supporters, although they'll be disproportionately affected since they run so many hospitals and other social services. It's a betrayal of every religious believer who supported him despite opposing abortion-on-demand.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • John Danger

      Republicans won't win in 2012 because they are anti-Catholic on issues of social justice, war, Palestine . . . the anti-Catholic, anti-Vatican positions of the Republicans are too numerous to name. This is why Obama won a majority of Catholics.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • fofotavour

      I just hope the earth loses all the religious tugs to heaven.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • joe

      the morning after pill is not a form of abortion – you are ruining this country, and are an idiot.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • sarah

      The Church is losing its war against its own followers. The majority of Catholics in the US have been using BC for decades despite all the preaching.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  10. Jeff

    Catholic church still thinks its the 15th century. They will always control their club. The Catholic church was against Obama before this. What makes this any different. Contraception should be free for all women. In fact, the Catholic church should encourge contraception to the rest of the overpopulated world. But they won't. The need for control.

    The Catholic Church should allow women priests, gay priests to come out of the closet to serve and allow non-catholics holy communion. But they won't.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • sarah

      It is about control. Most Catholics in the US use BC. They have been fighting the Pope on this for decades. Church leaders feel undermined by Obama. But most Catholics are ok with this decision. If they use BC out of sight, they also vote out of sight.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  11. Its not suprising.

    Obama like every other communist hates every religion but one in his name. All dictators are narcissist. Regardless if you are Catholic, Muslim, Jewish or Mormon or any other religion Obama will step on you its not the question "If" but only "when". That's why Communists in soviet Russia destroyed Churches, Mosques and Synagogues with the same eagerness.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  12. ajgorm

    Politicians and bankers believe in the one that makes them the most money ehh !

    February 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  13. SeanNJ

    When the RCC in America starts excommunicating pharmacy owners and employees, I'll take this stand seriously.

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

    Do conservatives believe in government ?

    February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  15. joe

    The Pope and Obama (and all presidents) are in the same boat. It's a popularity contest to see who can get the most followers. The problem is they both blow enough hot air to launch a balloon full of sheeple.
    Wake up people. The President and the Pope don't do anything for your own good. It's all about power and control.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  16. John Danger

    I can't believe goofy stories like this that seem to believe that quotes from archbishops or Catholic-school faculty members represent the majority of Catholics, who in poll after poll dissent from the opinions expressed above in large majorities. Truly a tone-deaf piece by CNN.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  17. fofotavour

    Catholic Churches are rich, they co-mingle in politics, therefore they should be taxed at least at 30% rate.

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

    Do liberals believe in God or government ?

    February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • fofotavour

      In science. And in a government that believes in science, such as President Obama, not in the bs that the GOP believe in.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Brian

      I would say Liberals believe in logic and rationality. Try it sometime and set the boy under your desk free!

      February 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • sarah

      There are religious Liberals and Atheist Conservatives. It's about what you think is more important.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  19. fofotavour

    Catholic Churches are rich, they co-mingle in politics, therefore they should be taxed at least 30%.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  20. prezhussein

    The great Oblamer-in-chief goes out of his way to appear sensitive to Muslims, blacks, and the fringe left wing element.
    Because that is who he is in his core.
    And he has destroyed the Democratic party with such a narrow partisan viewpoint.
    Catholics and a wholelot of other people feel Obama is a dangerous fraud.
    He will never realize this though as he only surrounds himself with groupies.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • John Danger

      Wow, you're completely wrong. A majority of Catholics backed Obama in 2008 and the same will happen in 2012.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • manyote

      "And he has destroyed the Democratic party..."

      I don't think that a destroyed Democratic party would raise $130 million in 2011 for Obama's presidential campaign. You really need to get better informed before posting here 'hussie'. That's almost what Mitt Robme and the Grinch raised combined. And who is the "fringe left" btw?

      February 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • prezhussein

      Blue collar workers are leaving the democratic party in droves in 2012.
      Catholics are too.
      Democrats are now the AlSharpton party of morons. Al said anyone opposing Obama is a racist. Let's see how well that works with Hispanics, Asians, Whites, etc
      Sharpton and his goons said the Arizona gov, whose state Obama wants to sue, was racist to say Obama was thin skinned.
      A bunch of hyper sensitive, excuses heavy, cry babies is what the amoral Democrats are now.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40
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.