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. A PRICE

    Please help me understand your frustration? If a religious hospital has to provide contraceptives, would the choice be the patient or the hospital. You see my point, this is a non-issue that makes a lot of idiots look like idiots. Personal freedom should be above religious freedom. Even God himself gives us free will. I guess the Catholic church is bigger that God.

    February 3, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • Joe Bobbit

      I guess it's like a vegan restaurant having to provide hamburgers and steak for whatever non-vegan happens to walk through the doors looking for service. Real vegans wouldn't order such food, and the non-vegans are free to dine in other establishments, ones that can better cater to their needs.

      February 3, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • Independant1

      Yes, this is just another example of Religous beliefs being forced to axcept all. Those seeking those services can go to other hospitals. If people want those services then they should go somewhere else. Don't force your views on mine. It is not like the person is bleeding to death and the hospitals are turning them away. This is a person making a thought out decision that they want this and because religious hospitals are some of the best in the nation (my opinion) they want to go there. An now the Obama administration is forcing us to accept it. No more Obama has got to go!!!

      February 3, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • J.W

      omg You do not seem to understand what this is saying. The hospital is not forced to provide the service. The employer is required to offer an insurance plan that offers these services to their employees.

      February 3, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  2. savvy


    I don't want to get into a debate on this issue, but the mandate also forces coverage of abortion drugs.

    February 3, 2012 at 3:53 am |
  3. EJ Yabochuk

    Silly Catholics, don't you know that the only ones allowed exemption from El Presidente's healthcare mandates are his union toadies?

    February 3, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • savvy

      Amish and Muslims are exempt from Obama care, since the latter does not believe in insurance.

      February 3, 2012 at 3:43 am |
  4. Bethena

    Yes.. Sadly He is and has.

    February 3, 2012 at 2:50 am |
  5. savvy

    The mandate applies to all employers regardless of whether they accept any funding or not.

    As, Megan McArdle’s, puts it "These people seem to be living in an alternate universe that I don’t have access to, where there’s a positive glut of secular organizations who are just dying to provide top-notch care for the sick, the poor, and the dispossessed."


    February 3, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  6. savvy


    No human being, can decide what is Catholic i.e. Universal, unless they are 100% consistent in all their views.
    So, yes you are right that Catholics, including the Pope cannot decide what is Catholic.

    The idea some people have that Catholicism is based on what the church says, stems out of ignorance of how the church determines things.

    February 3, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  7. savvy

    Maggie May,

    There are plenty of places when one can get contraception for cheap. There are also many other health services that should get coverage. Why is only contraception and abortion getting a free break?

    February 3, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • pet

      abortion is murder, contraception saves people from commiting murder, so if as i am you are anti abortion, you must be pro contraception. anything else is senseless, its the pope faced this truth and changed his mind

      February 3, 2012 at 3:08 am |
    • Joe Bobbit

      If abortion is murder then any woman who doesn't go to the strictest levels to protect her pregnancy is also a murderer, yes? Eat something a bit unhealthy, forget to take your vitamins a couple of times, get rides with people who smoke in their cars. If she happens to have a miscarriage a woman could be held accountable for anything like this, and men too if they happened to smoke, drink, or otherwise cause damage to their half of the fetus' genetic makeup. It's a slippery slope legally.

      February 3, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  8. savvy

    Formerly A Democrat Catholic-this did it,

    I couldn't agree with you more. How the heck is Obama to decide if someone is Catholic or not? Catholics might disagree on many things, but one thing we don't want is the state attacking us for simply being Catholic.

    I am an Orthodox Catholic, but thank you brother, for standing up for ALL Catholics.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • sam

      catholics can't even decide what's catholic. Logic fail. Post fail, too – use the 'reply' link.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • Joe Bobbit

      Plenty of discussion (and finger pointing) about who the "real" Christians are amongst protestants too, buddy. Lots of talk of "dead" churches and having a personal "relationship" with Christ vs the Christian religion built by men. Way more division amongst protestants than within any other religious tradition.

      February 3, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • AGuest9

      The coptics are the "truest" christians, if you believe in such things. Everything else is a derivative.

      February 3, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  9. Reality

    The fastest growing USA voting demographic: The 78 million "mothers and fathers of aborted children" whose ranks grow by two million per year. They will easily put Obama back in the White/Blood Red House!!!!

    February 2, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Paul

      I believe Obama can't be re-elected without a majority of the Catholic vote, like 2008. There's simply too much at stake, not just on the question of religious liberty, especially in the key swing states. Therefore, I expect a 360-degree flip or "swing" on the issue by the Administration soon enough...

      February 3, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • AGuest9

      Still, no one with a conscience can vote for the newt. What a moral dilemma!

      February 3, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  10. Aristocles

    If a woman wants to use contraception, she legally can do it, but she has no business expecting other people to pay for it, least of all a group of people who believe it is wrong.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Maggie May

      Any other health choice, like smoking, drinking, overeating, not exercising, exercising too much, playing sports, not playing sports, or what have you will also have critics unwilling to pay. If we cut out everything that some people disagree with simply because it isn't what they're into doing then NOBODY would have any insurance.

      February 3, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  11. Iqbal khan


    February 2, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Reality

      Islam gives women almost no rights and treats them like fodder for the male species as so bluntly noted by Aya-an Hi-rsi Ali in her autobiography, In-fidel.

      "Thus begins the extraordinary story of a woman born into a family of desert nomads, circu-mcised as a child, educated by radical imams in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, taught to believe that if she uncovered her hair, terrible tragedies would ensue. It's a story that, with a few different twists, really could have led to a wretched life and a lonely death, as her grandmother warned. But instead, Hi-rsi Ali escaped – and transformed herself into an internationally renowned spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women."
      ref: Washington Post book review.

      some excerpts:

      "Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly be-aten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their scre-ams resounded across the courtyards. "No! Please! By Allah!"

      "The Pakistanis were Muslims but they too had cas-tes. The Untou-chable girls, both Indian and Pakistani were darker skin. The others would not play with them because they were unt-ouchable. We thought that was funny because of course they were tou-chable: we to-uched them see? but also hor-rifying to think of yourself as un-touchable, des-picable to the human race."

      "Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were ki-lled by their families in just two regions (there are 20 regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exa-ggerating."

      "The kind on thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia and among the Brotherhood of Kenya and Som-alia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves the feu-dal mind-set based on tr-ibal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypro-cricy, and double standards. It relies on the technologial advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam".

      February 2, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  12. Max Powers

    People are dying because of over population. The Catholic church needs to get with the times and get over the contraception issue. Not providing contraception is inhumane.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • savvy

      The West is dying as result of under-population and needs to get with the times and back Naprotechnology that makes most modern birth control methods look ancient. It's also a safer alternative for women.

      The church also does not require people to have as many children as possible.

      February 3, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  13. tim12

    obama is losing quite a few of the groups that voted for him in 08. i read a lot of quotes about people saying obamam will really cream romney. not so. romey has a good team together. it will be real close.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:33 pm |

    • Romney is all about wealth and privilege. That's becoming more apparent everyday. People have already begun to move away from him.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • AGuest9

      And the newt is a slimeball. Will make for a very disgusting election.

      February 3, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  14. Some guy

    Honestly, the government isnt forcing anyone to take these contraceptive drugs. Just because corporations will include contraceptives in their health insurance policies, doesnt mean that everyone is going to start taking them and aborting their babies. If a Catholic woman gets pregnant while working under one of these corporations, she will have the choice to have her baby or not.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • RU12?

      We don't want to feel like we gave her that choice.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Some guy

      Well that's her life and her decision to make. I mean, I know its just my opinion and all but if a woman isnt ready to have a child, whether it be financially or just preference, she should have the choice to abort her baby.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • savvy

      In this case, they are being forced to pay for it. They don't have a choice.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • sam

      fundies don't like allowing people to have choices that aren't theirs.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • Dejavu39

      Why is contraception and abortion being spoken of as if they are the same?.... One PREVENTS conception, (birth control pills) and the other eliminates a pregnancy.

      Another question.... are condoms considered contraception by the Catholic Church?

      February 3, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • AGuest9

      @Dejavu39, the church considers all forms of contraception in the same light as abortion, strictly speaking. Remember in the OT where yahweh killed Onan for "wasting his seed"?

      February 3, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • I = rubber, U = glue

      When i got married, (my wife is a practicing Catholic, i was raised Catholic), we had to take a church class about Natural Familiy Planning. They taught that all contraception is a sin, even "pulling out" I was told you have to finish and allow God the chance to impregnant the woman. They said "learn when the woman is fertile and unfertile, abstain when she is fertile and go to town when she is not". Apparently this is how to make God happy.

      February 3, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  15. At any rate

    The Pope is probably a Christian, but really he's like just this guy, you know?

    February 2, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  16. savvy

    First of all nobody is imposing their religious beliefs on others. This mandate is forcing the church to pay for contraception and abortion drugs. Is the government going to force a Muslim restaurant to serve pork or alcohol?

    February 2, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • sam

      Uh...the church itself, any church, is not involved or expected to pay for anything. Gonna have to ask where you're getting your source, or, whether you're just panicking out your a.ss like most fundies.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Truth

      Don't worry, I heard the govt is just going to put contraceptives in the water where the most Catholics live, so, the problem will soon solve itself.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • shalom2U

      Under the authority of President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare law, the government will require religiously affiliated universities, hospitals and charities to provide free coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives by August 2013, including the morning after pill and sterilization. The employer, in the case of a Catholic Hospital, a Catholic diocese or Catholic Religious order will pay for the the contraceptives, morning after pill and sterilization because they are forced to by the Federal Government–in this case the Democratic Party because they alone passed the Health Care Bill and it was Democrat in the Executive Branch who made these exemption rules

      February 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Maggie May

      The Church, or a business owned by the Church?

      February 2, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • sam

      Hey shalom – if catholic hospitals don't like it, and are serious about it, then maybe they should stop accepting federal assistance for anything.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  17. yvette

    Whatever your denominaiton, shouldn't there be a concern that the goverment is trying to impose something that goes against your relgion? America was sought after for the religous freedom that it could provide. Maybe the HHS policy could help with less abortions, but if it violates religous freedoms...I can say that it does upset me.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  18. Ed

    The trouble with catholics and other fundamentalists is that they are not content living according to their beliefs – they want everyone else to live according to them also. Many seem to think that it is an infringment upon their religious liberty if they are not permited to infringe upon the liberties of others.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Maura

      Oh good, you see the problem. The only thing is that you have it reversed. The problem with you is that you are trying to force your beliefs on us!

      February 2, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Daniel6

      It's called projection--

      February 2, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Cite examples of how others are attempting to force their views on you, or shut up and stop being idiotic.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Sam

      You can be very moderate as a Catholic. The Mel Gibson types are pretty rare. Well, where I come from anyway.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  19. yeahright

    Catholics are out of touch with modern politics. Even more so than Fundie Christian types who are at least part of the dialogue. The idea of a whole group of people taking order from the Pope (who doesn't live in this nation and is alien to its needs) is outdated and slows the Catholic community down. Here's a hint Catholics, stand up to Big Pappy once in a while and create your own political platforms. It doesn't take a whole reformation to do so. And that way you don't look even more backwards than the Christian Nutters that have grabbed center stage here in the US because the issues they run on are at least current.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Maura

      Thank you for your insulting remarks.

      Well, if someone is dumb you might not follow him, but when he is given authority by God, it is always the smarter option to follow. If you have a good thing, there is no need to change. We believe in truth and good and evil. It isn't all relative.

      Well, if modern means messed up and immoral, I would prefer to be out of touch 🙂

      February 2, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • sam

      Given authority by god...please. Maura. STFU.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Maura... you have every right to be insulted, suck it up....just as your Pope and others like to insult other folks they decide would be good for the cause..And as for authority from God you have to be kidding....which god out of the thousands do you think it is? and what proof.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  20. swodog

    I would say yes because he has not treated them as well as the illegals and welfare pimps. But most Catholics I know are too stupid to realize it. So I guess the answer for me would be no.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:05 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.