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. Steve H.

    This article leaves out some important specifics. For example, If these organizations employee non-Catholics, federal health insurance regulations say they must offer insurance coverage for contraceptives. It doesn't say Catholics have to use contraceptives or even the non-Catholics. It just says the Catholic organizations can't withhold the coverage. Here's a good explanation, although it is an opinion piece too. http://www.salon.com/2012/02/02/catholics_need_to_preach_what_we_practice/

    February 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  2. Katie

    Certain religious beliefs are NOT protected rights. For example, you can't sacrifice humans for the sake of your religion, and even animal sacrifices are highly regulated. You can't use illegal drugs as part of a religious ritual. And if you're a member of something like Christian Science, then you can't deny proper healthcare to a sick child. Religious rights only extend so far, and when they begin to hurt others (which refusing contraception does), that's when it's no longer a right.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Spot on Katie

      February 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • George R

      So you are comparing this to human sacrifice? Hyperbole much? And for your information, certain illegal drugs are allowed in the practice of traditional religions.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Learn reading comprehension George, the human sacrifice thing is an example of something that is not protected by freedom of religion. And what illegal drugs are used in which religious traditions?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • George R


      Specifically, peyote.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      That's one good job, now any others?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Rob

      How does refusing contraception hurt others? Unlike human sacrifice, there are alternatives for contraception.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Birth control pills can be used to treat certain illnesses, so the ones being hurt would be the females. They are also much safer than some other perscription drugs that are used nowadays. For example

      Prevent ectopic pregnancy. As birth control pills work chiefly by reducing ovulation, they effectively cease ectopic pregnancy in addition to normal pregnancy. This makes the pills an excellent contraceptive option for females who are at particular risk for ectopic pregnancy, a potentially life-threatening condition.

      Reduce the risk of symptomatic endometriosis. Females who have Endometriosis are less likely to have pelvic pain & some other signs when they are using the pill. Birth control pills won’t cure Endometriosis, however. It may prevent the disease from increasing. Birth control pills are the first- alternative medication for controlling Endometriosis development & pain. This is since birth control hormones are the hormone treatment that is least probable to cause bad side effects.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Pat

      Alternative to contraception and 100% fool-proof – Abstinence.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  3. ajgorm

    Will work for food ! Please help !..Yeah here is a shovel and a bag of nuts now get to work. How hard is it to create jobs in America when everyone wants to work ?

    February 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  4. Think for yourself

    Catholics are more concerned with the economy, jobs, etc. I don't think they will vote based on whether or not contraception is made available to them via their insurance provider.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  5. ajgorm

    When church and state are joined at the hip does it keep us from rational decision making ?

    February 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • BRC

      Most would say yes, as Religious decisions are generally based on dogma, not rational consideration (indivdual exceptions not withstanding)

      February 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • George R

      This is not about church and state being joined. This is about the state forcing a religion to act contrary to its principles.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • So

      "This is about the state forcing a religion to act contrary to its principles."

      Which religion are you referring to Islam?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  6. J.W

    The fact is contraception is beneficial to society. It helps control unwanted pregnancies. Society as a whole will benefit by having it available to everyone.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • George R

      Society would benefit more from self-control.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Formerly A Democrat Catholic-this did it

      Contraception may be benificial, but so is the first amendment. Its a balancing act, one which Obama is handling poorly which is disturbing. Equally disturbing is the anti-catholic slander being posted by supporters of the President on this board.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • J.W

      Nobody is being forced to purchase contraceptives. They just have to have insurance which will cover them, and they should have health insurance anyways.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Snow

      yep.. they teach that self control so well in religious schools that their students' biggest problem is mas.tur.bation.. if you know anything about the emotional or physiological effects of denying pleasure for prolonged time, you wouldn't suggest celibacy to anyone..

      sadly, the 1500 yr old traditions that modern day churches follow have no clue and think "self control" is going to solve every problem on earth..

      February 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  7. ajgorm

    70 million Catholics WoW ! that is really breaking it down ! How many illegals are in this country ?

    February 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  8. Jill-IN

    A huge percentage of Catholics use birth control. They would be hypocrites to say otherwise. That said, I don't think the Affordable Care Act regulations should require that any plan pay for it. Even if it is offered in a plan, the plan participant can pay for the birth control. It's not that expensive anyway. And, I don't think any health care plan should pay for viagra, cialis, etc. These are not a medical necessity.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      The birth control pills are sometimes used in a purely medical fashion. Irregular hormone levels can be treated with the pill.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  9. NJBob

    When will we finally be free of irrational, pernicious, oppressive religion?? Not a moment too soon!

    February 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • George R

      When will we finally be free of irrational, pernicious, oppressive secularism? Not a moment too soon!

      February 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Brad

      Great comeback, that was so original it blew my top........

      February 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • MJBillings

      From the sound of some of our friends on this thread, not anytime soon. The Rabbit Hole is wide open, I'm afraid.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:04 pm |

  10. Obama is probably the most honest, diligent and conscientious politician to sit in the oval office in the last 30 years. Count on it, the Republican that will oppose him will be of the usual stripe: power derived from money ( and privilege in the case of Romney). That man will not represent us. He will only represent an elite few while assuring us that we and the country as a whole will benefit thereby. That will lead to more economic disaster, more class polarization, and another failed Republican administration. We must not fall for the deceptions the Republicans are trying to feed us. They actually say that Obama is evil. They cannot say how. They say Obama has failed, but can't point to his failures. Now they have the audacity to try to bring the Church into their lies. Reject what they say. Reject them. Vote for Obama in 2012.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • MJBillings

      Oh, I will vote again for President Obama. It is time for people to wake up from the dreams they insist are reality. The basic human rights of women need to be reinforced and strengthened not weakened by any dogma, no matter what group proposes it. Stay Strong Ladies. Remember, if you choose to give birth, only TWO are needed to replace the population.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  11. dandavidgarcia

    An Obama administration official cites $2 Billion given to Catholic charities. Does it think this will buy their acceptance of a a practice (contraception, abortion) that they oppose as part of their doctrine??? Bribery won't work.Catholics should oppose this regardless of how much money is given to them.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • noel


      February 2, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • MJBillings

      You have no notion of what you are talking about. Period. Go home and pray you can learn to think.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  12. noel

    Obama: I will not let the 50% who don't pay any taxes be punished by those who don't pay their fair share:::)))

    February 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  13. waitwhat

    I'm a Gay born again Christian who is pro-choice and pro evolution. Why can't you all just leave us alone.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • noel

      Hmmm, because you are a liar and the truth is not in you. A Christian cannot be sodomist/gay...PERIOD!!! Neither can a drunkard. Try reading the Bible on the topic sometime. Hopefully you will open your eyes to the SIN in which you are living. GOD still forgive those willing to turn from sin. If not, God be merciful on your soul!!!

      February 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • noel

      btw-do explain the precambrian explosion to us...darwin couldn't... good luck w/ that!!! you obviously need to do your research in many areas!!!

      February 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Pat

      Catholics believe in evolution. In fact, we are taught that the bible is not meant to be literal. It's a moral story written by man.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  14. Mike

    The solution seems easy enough to me. Make birth control an option for the policy. If you want it...you pay extra for it. If you don't want it... don't buy it.
    I'm guessing many people will opt for the buy-in.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • B-Squared

      A common-sense solution. Unfortunately the government is involved so we can't use those.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  15. noel

    as far as obongo goes...when you rob peter to pay paul, you can always count on the support of paul...as long as you are willing to be counted as a thief!!! OBAMANOS PENDEJO!!! MICKEY MOUSE 2012!!! anyone but obongo!!!

    February 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • NJBob

      Low IQ?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Seems like it.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  16. lps

    I hope so.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  17. annbradford

    SERIOUS: As a WOMAN I deserve the right to have ACCESS to contraceptives IF I so wish to use them. The Catholic church should have FAITH that their parishioners whom they teach to not use contraceptives won't use them. But the people they employ aren't all Catholics therefore those employees should have ACCESS to them IF they so choose.

    HUMOROUS: I understand its against their faith but I thought that was created by a Pope after the plague (you know when sheeps intestine was the "rubber") or something to rebuild the Catholic population. As most can see the world doesn't need a population boost in fact I think we could use a little reduction lol. Maybe the government should make people take a test to see if they are ideal for procreating.

    Not all BC is used for the purpose of preventing birth. I believe that this is my body and right God given right to CHOOSE if I should use them or not. I do not currently use BC however have been prescribed it in the past to deal with cyclical MIGRAINES.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Joe T.

      I agree that banning contraceptives is an outdated idea from a different era.

      I would just like to point out about your test for procreating. Who would administer the test? Who decides what makes a fit parent? Isn't it true that most people aren't ready to parents? Isn't it only after you actually have the child that you learn how to be a parent? Having a child is a bit different than driving a car.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Joe T.

      And yes I realize you were joking but I've heard people bring that up before and it always bugs me.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  18. Marty

    The Catholic Church is extremely political and hypocritical. Women are an easy target and the clergy make the most of it. I haven't heard anything against the use of male enhancement products, vasectomies or lecherous males seeking annulments from "consecrated" marriages of ten, twenty and thirty years. Nor has there been a dialogue of what the children of these 'annulled', never existed marriages are called ,or, of their place in society as well as the church.
    Mr. Obama hasn't lost the catholics, the catholics have lost the catholics.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • MJBillings

      Oh SPOT ON !! and thank you for hitting that nail squarely on the head.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  19. Julia

    Religious organizations don't pay taxes, but the last time I checked, religions are made up of people, human beings who pay taxes (in most cases) to causes that they don't support. Why aren't they allowed to question where there money is going?

    February 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • BRC

      You are welcome to want to know where your money is going, but understand that if more of the country wants to pay for something than doesn't, you might not always like what your tax dollars are used for.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  20. Steven Bulcroft

    I don't know about Obama "losing catholics" but it is clear that Catholicism is "losing catholics".

    February 2, 2012 at 3:25 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.