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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. Mimi

    Small loss I'd say.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  2. ShineOn75

    The religious nuts are not worried about breaking their religious "rules", they are worried about how much it is going to cost them financially to provide those health services to their employees. It always comes down to money.

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

      Exactly! Catholics don't care about their worshippers, they care about the bottom line.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • gerald

      And to what do you two attribute your great insites to. From where I am sitting it looks like you attribute them to your bigoted views. Have at it.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  3. Dirk Vandereyken

    The – scientifically-grounded – fact is that birth control does indeed help to downsize the number of abortions significantly and as a therapist I can say definitely that people will never ever – EVER – have enough self control to practice abstinence in a way that will also significantly reduce the number of abortions. Here in Europe, most chuches have reacted very badly on the current Pope's anti-birth control statements. But, then again, a lot of Americans seem to think our way of doing things is something to be avoided and equate socialism to communism... which is a pity.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  4. John

    Phil……. try thinking with your head instead of your penis.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  5. Dave

    Bottom line is . . . . . . I'm Catholic but the Pope does not follow me into the voting booth. You have to be voting for the best candidate and your not going to get all you want. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and render unto God the things that are God's. Do not be throwing the baby out with the bath water . . . . . . .

    February 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Its not suprising.

      Maybe Dave but forcing Catholics to shove their believes on the side is little too much. Where does it stop. Liberals had been offending Christians for years. I am sure there will be more "funny" pictures disrespecting religion, I am sure stooges from TV will have fun. Maybe this is the moment to show liberals that Democratic party do not own us. We are not slaves to communists.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • sam

      'surprising', do you spend all your days going off the deep end? No one's forcing anyone to shove a belief aside. Just don't use what's made available.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  6. Ron

    in China they're not allowed to have no more than two children and boys are really important girls are not, now that's control

    February 2, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  7. Dirk Vandereyken

    Frankly, as a European, some of these comments are astounding to me. I love coming to the US and I visit your country every year, but still I fnd it staggering that thearticle and some people who are commenting here equate being Christian to being opposed to birth control! The – scientifically-grounded – fact is that birth control does indeed help to downsize the number of abortions significantly and as

    February 2, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Dee

      Go home!

      February 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • George R

      Isn't the pope European? Isn't the Vatican in Europe?

      February 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  8. Katie

    My religious beliefs make me not believe in taxes! The government shouldn't make me pay them if it's against my religion! Right?

    February 2, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Hey there. Quit with your logic. It has no place in a religious discussion ma'am.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  9. Ron

    who cares catholics is no longer the dominating religion in America, people of all religions will vote for him regardless, CNN is losiing ground in its tv ratings, this is why I switched to MSNBC in 2008 and recently CURRENT Channel with Keith Olberman etc

    February 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Laura Shanahan

      Keith olbermann? hahahahaha!! Talk about angry unhinged whackjobs..

      February 2, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  10. longtooth

    This just in! Breaking News! There is no such thing as the "Catholic Vote" !!!

    February 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  11. Jon

    Apparently most of you are not reading this part of the story, "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."

    February 2, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Or they would be fined.

      So pay the fine. Not like the church can't afford it.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      birth control is cheaper than welfare.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • sam

      If the employer is a catholic church, or has strong catholic leanings, then it stands to reason most of the employees are also catholic and will not be running out to buy contraceptives. So it's a non-issue. No one's forcing anyone to do anything but make something available. No one has to use it.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • J.W

      But the church would be exempt from this completely, just not outside organizations affiliated with the church.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  12. Ron

    big deal catholics are no longer the dominating religion in America

    February 2, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  13. MJBillings

    We shall see. We shall see if the Catholic laity are still sheeple or whether they will pronounce their opposition to the clergy. So many of the Catholic faith have not followed the precept of the restriction on artificial birth control for decades but quietly. Maybe now, many will come out of the confessional and join the Lutherans once and for all.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • SPA Knight

      Instead of Catholics coming out of confessionals to join Lutherans, we need the opposite. Those who have strayed should seek forgiveness and repent their disobedient ways which lead to evil practices such as abortion. Any culture that kill their own children cannot expect to receive blessings from God.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • MN

      oh please, birth control does NOT equal killing your children, it PREVENTS them, just the same as abstinence. By your logic, abstaining while ovulating would be "killing your children" becuase it does the same thing as the pill, prevents a pregnancy. It DOESN'T terminate one. I swear, if you people had your way the entire world would be populated by poor, unwanted children with no one to take care of them because we wouldn't have the resources for it. Please get a grip on reality, once again, you will be proven to be on the wrong side of history in this debate when peolple look back years from now.

      February 3, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  14. Phil

    I used to think like the majority until I really looked at the Catholic Church's position on being open to life. My wife and I now have 6 children whom we both love dearly and our lives are filled with much joy and hope! I used to give Obama and his administration a pass for being unenlightened but now see him as a direct threat to the freedom of all.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • sam

      LOL What?? My guess is that since procreation is the only acceptable time to get it on, that's why you have 6 kids. 'Direct threat to freedom of all'. You're not the 'all', you loony.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • MJBillings

      When you acknowledge you have six children the veracity of the rest of your statement is mute. You went down the rabbit hole in the fallacy of your thoughts.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • John

      Phil you are obviously a moron. It’s hard for any sensible person to understand why the stupidest people in the world think they should take it upon themselves to populate it.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Mary718

      I am with you, Phil. Ignore the haters.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Derek

      LOL!!!You will now see al the Jews and the protestants come spewing thier hate here !!
      While the rest fo the world is growing in "Catholicism", Only the US and Western Europe are shrinking.. Ask yourself WHY!!

      If that does not answer your question look in which part of the world the economy is growing !! with that said....

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

      Sam do you always speak with such ignorance. The CC does not say that s_e_x is only for procreation. Clearly you have not read JP II's Theology of the Body. Why don't you let people who know what the CC teaches speak for it rather than just sounding ignorant yourself.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • gerald

      John one thing is certain, I am glad people like you are not populating it.

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

      gerald, it depends on what sect you're from. Read up, yourself, before making it obvious you think you know it all.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Dave

      I'm with you too Phil. This is (another) one step too far for me.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • sam

      'Unenlightened' = 'doesn't think exactly like I do'. Goodness. You guys are adorable.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Good thing Phil

      I have 6 and dont worry about hatters. I have 6 kids because I can afford it. Hatters gonna hate.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  15. Emmy Skaddittle

    so exactly how much power does the catholic church have?

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

      forget taxing the wealthy, tax the catholics

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

      Less than they think and more than they should.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Bizarre

      SeanNJ,

      Yes. It's like horses (and teenagers):

      Smarter than you think they are, but not as smart as they think they are.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Tom

      Ha! That's what Stalin said: "How many divisions does the Pope have?" How did that one work out?

      February 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Derek

      Go one step back and read!!

      February 2, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • SPA Knight

      Guest,
      The answer to all problems from the left is taxes...until you run out of other people's money.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  16. Snow

    A person who puts his religion ahead of their patriotism do not deserve the rights and privileges offered by the country. Simple, yet so many people have trouble understanding that.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • George R

      What is patriotic about allowing the government to infringe on religious liberties?

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

      Thank you.

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

      "What is patriotic about allowing the government to infringe on religious liberties?"

      Oh so religions like cults that abuse their members, religions that allow to marry the children before 18, etc... Let's guess you're only thinking about YOUR religion.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:54 pm |

    • Snow-

      Usually God is put before country. Why is your assertion true? Because you say it is?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • George R

      @So

      No, I'm not. I'm not even Catholic.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Patriotism? Is that why the original founding fathers didn't rebel from England? Patriotism? Oh, wait! They did! There is a long history in this nation of standing up against tyranny. Freedom is one of the most important precepts to Catholics and non Catholics alike, and it is one of the most important precepts of any true patriot. To stand with the government on this issue would be to stand with tyranny. Funny how you try to double-speak your way out of this one, but it won't work.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • ....

      This makes about 8 names you're using now instead of the 3 you claimed right?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • J.W

      Depends what you mean by patriotism.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      "Patriotism" as used in the parent poster's context = newspeak for "tyranny."

      This isn't 1984, Mr. Snow.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Snow

      Do you even understand what putting god before country really means? that given a choice between god's word and the good of the country, you should choose god's word.. would you say the christian testament about "death to people believing any god other then one true god" gives Christians right to kill those of other faiths? would you say that islam's "death to infedels" clause gives american muslims right to kill those of other faiths? coz that is exactly what putting god before consti.tution means..

      morons who do not think about consequences of their argument think that arguments about contraception and gay marriage are the end decider of the debate.. but do not realize that it is in fact just the tip and the iceberg of consequences under that argument are big enough to take the civilization out

      February 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Snow, snow, snow ... You're truly confused. You're citing old testament passages out of context while ignoring that Catholics hold Christ's new covenant as paramount instead? Truly, you should take your very own advice. It's right there in paragraph 2. You're welcome!

      February 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Snow

      A lesson from your own book (the new one) that apparently you yourself do not know/follow

      "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place." (Matthew 5:17 NAB)

      February 2, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  17. Common Sense

    No contraceptives huh? Does this mean that all these unwanted young children can be taken under the church's wing as altar boys to molest?

    February 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Mary718

      Oh, you're so glib! There's more to the Catholic Church than just its failings.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  18. BobRooney

    Our own adult children cannot find work.
    and Obama wants to give work permits to illegals?!
    Push your state rep to make a change.
    Google this: NUMBERSUSA .
    Once you are registered, go to the "action board" to send FREE faxes to your state representative.
    They are all typed up and ready to go, you just need to click your mouse to send.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  19. Colin

    Ah yes, our Catholic friends continue their inevitable slide into theological irrelevance in the West. At least they still have the Third World to find people with the lack of education required to still believe in sky-fairies in the 21st Century.

    Ever noticed that the three biggest movements away from Catholic Dogma are called "The Renaissance" "The Reformation" and "The Enlightenment". Says it all. These silly superst.itions should never have made it out of the Dark Ages.

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

      and I take it you hate catholics..hahaha

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

      Of course not. I don't hate people who believe in ghosts either, but i have no respect for their views.

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

      Ah. but these beliefs DID make it out of the Dark Ages. It is up to modernity and reasoning to help the sheeple overcome the brainwashing they accept in the pews. Little by little the reality of overpopulation will sink in. Hopefully.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Pat

      Colin, are you an atheist then?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Colin

      Pat yes I am

      February 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Pat

      I respect your belief to be an atheist, Colin. All we're asking is for you to respect our beliefs as Catholics or Protestants or Jews etc to worship the way we want which includes believing that using contraception is wrong, even if we do use it on occasion. Obama doesn't seem to understand that.

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

      Pat, in so far as it is your choice, I have no issue with it. What I object to is Catholics preventing third parties from having acess to contraceptives.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • sam

      Pat, no one's going to force you to use contraceptives. Leave the rest of us, who don't share your faith, alone.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  20. John

    Any organization that protects child molestors has no credibility. The Catholic Church is an evil empire.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • guest

      Any organization that can overlook the economic, budget, and international problems that we have to simply tell people to vote based on this ideology, truly is an evil empire.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:50 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.