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. PleaseUseLogic

    The pseud-Catholic argument presented is really moot. The government is not telling them that they HAVE to do anything. If they choose not to comply or provide appropriate choices and standard of care to patients, they can do so. They just don't receive funding. Problem solved. If they're actual concern is their beliefs, then they will gladly forgo monetary gain. It's almost as if it's not a belief matter at all.... as if money has something to do with it.... hmmmm.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:03 am |
  2. mfx3

    The Catholic vote is the same as the Evangelical vote...archaic, irrelevant, and consistently on the wrong side of history. Who cares what they think?

    February 2, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • Rubedo

      I'm catholic and I won't be voting for the filibustering politicians that don't care equally for all.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  3. Inconvenient George

    Gene needs to learn what "ad hominem" means.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:32 am |
  4. Inconvenient George

    The Catholic Church chooses to hire non-Catholics, and take funds from the state. Therefore they make themselves subject to Civil Law. No one is forcing them to do anything. All they have to do is decline the Federal money.

    February 2, 2012 at 3:31 am |
    • KTM

      Exactly. Well said, my friend.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:33 am |
    • Tina.Hill

      The Truth! way to go!

      February 2, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  5. msbetz

    How about he's lost the vote of ALL CHRISTIANS, not just Catholics. ALL of them.

    February 2, 2012 at 2:54 am |
    • Leif

      The only vote that counts is the one that takes place on election day.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:13 am |
    • the_crusades_lol

      Yes, because Christians, we're all reflex-driven crusaders. No one should have any choices. Period. Other than choice of religion. As long as that religion is Christian. Amiright?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • KTM

      No. He's only losing the Christians that think that helping the poor and caring for the sick is secondary to making money...and those Christians were going to vote Republican anyway.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:24 am |
    • They aren't even invited to the party

      Christians are already out of this election. Their choice will be between a Mormon who has utterly no loyalty them for the abuse they have been heaping on him, or Obama, who has utterly no loyalty to them for the abuse they have been heaping on them.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:24 am |
    • tffl

      I didn't realize you got to speak for all Christians. That must be very nice...

      February 2, 2012 at 3:37 am |
    • TRH

      Why do you say that?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:41 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Of course he has...they wouldn't want a president who doesn't increase their debt ceiling...they just stupidly believe their imaginary friend will cure all and take care of them.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:31 am |
  6. the_crusades_lol

    Just because my insurance would cover birth control doesn't mean I have to use it. The law doesn't say you have to use the birthcontrol, etc, just that your insurance will cover it should you decide to use it.

    Sorry, RCC, this is yet another crusade you lose.

    February 2, 2012 at 2:44 am |
    • David Marriott

      If you're paying for it, you're a part of it! ....ever heard of place called Nuremberg?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • KTM

      @David. I had to pay for your bloody wars for the last twelve years, and you're mad about paying for the pill? Amazing.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:27 am |
  7. Mark

    But are Catholics shooting themselves in the foot in thinking the GOP will be any better?

    February 2, 2012 at 2:23 am |
    • blucorsair

      When has the GOP ever forced the Jews or Muslims to eat pork just, because everyone else does or into a healthcare system that uses everyones tax dollars for publicly funded abortions? ...even CNN's own liberal poll suggests that 61% of the country is against this and that the national average is even higher as witnessed in swing states like Ohio(66%).

      February 2, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • Jimrob63

      Catholics are are always shooting themselves in the foot. C'mon Man!

      February 2, 2012 at 3:39 am |
  8. art

    Well maybe they will be happy.with a mormon in the White House! So sad that we heve gotten to this point. I am a Catholic in practice, living surrounded by mormonism I have lived their ideals for the last 30 something years in Laie, Hawaii. Unless you give yourself to their ideals, you will never reap the fruits of your labor! Sounds like Jonestown in southern América. Jim Jones? Don't drink that punch,water,lemonaid or whatever!

    February 2, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • Gene Church

      I am opposed to the intrinsic evil of abortion.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      Who cares ?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:41 am |
  9. thes33k3r

    Religion–always making it difficult to make real progress. Either join us in the world of reason or please get the h3ll out of the way so the rest of the world can move forward.

    February 2, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • Gene Church

      Running over us and taking away over rights is not moving forward.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:42 am |
  10. joe clark

    President Obama has already lost the support of the majority of the American electorate. He is a "do nothing:" President just what America does not need. A real leader in the White House is definitely in order in 2013.

    February 2, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • TRH

      And that would be?

      February 2, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • KTM

      Do nothing? Stop total economic collapse. End Iraq War. Catch bin Laden. Save the American auto industry. Help liberate Libya without ground invasion. Lower payroll taxes for all American. Nothing? You really need to stop watching Fox news and read a book occasionally (and a book by Glen Beck does not count).

      February 2, 2012 at 3:39 am |
    • Tina.Hill

      Man, What Planet are you from? Go back..

      February 2, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Rubedo

      Maybe another 8 years of a Bush clone who will start a third war. Isn't that why this country is in so much debt? In all honesty, it's the Republican Congress that has done nothing in the last 3 years but try to make the President look like a failure. It's not going to work-out the way they think it will.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  11. mpbulletin

    As an employer, the church has to meet the same requirements as EVERY OTHER employer has to. And that includes discriminating against those with handicaps. I hope the Supreme Court is listening 'cause they ruled wrong on that one.

    February 2, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  12. God

    Is the Catholic church concerned with the absurd number of pederasts in it's ranks? Is Sandusky the Archbishop? Oh but rubbers and BC...that's unacceptable!

    February 2, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Gene Church

      You are an idiot. Any number would be too many, but far less than you find in your schools, and probably in your neighborhood.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:43 am |
  13. nothing new here

    Yes, we should all take moral advice from an organization that gives comfort to child molesters, criminals and illegals...
    The RCC makes corrupt politicians look good.

    February 2, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • Gene Church

      Stupid answer. While there have been gay priests who have been involved with pubescent teens, almost entirely in the past, and this problem exists throughout society, in other churches and in our law enforcement and schools, it is unacceptable. But it doesn't make the faith wrong, or the truth wrong.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:45 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      How exactly do you know any of that ? Cite your source.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:07 am |
  14. JLS639

    "Our freedom, and everyone has a stake in freedom in this country, and I think that's why this resonates across the board"

    My business wants the freedom to not pay for diabetes treatments and coronary bypass. I find it offensive that I am forced to pay the health insurance costs for lifestyle choices that lead to these diseases.

    It is just like "states rights." Want to withold something nobody else is allowed to withhold? Frame it in terms of a different, sometimes made-up, right or freedom.

    February 2, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • Gene Church

      Actually, state's rights is found in the 10th amendment.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:46 am |
    • TRH

      "I find it offensive that I am forced to pay the health insurance costs for lifestyle choices that lead to these diseases."

      Please don't give the health insurance industry any new, creative ideas.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:56 am |
  15. God

    Catholica are pederasts anyway! Eff em!

    February 2, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • Gene Church

      You are disgusting.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:47 am |
  16. nothing new here

    The RCC should be made to pay for the upbringing of all these 'unwanted kids'...
    OOPS, I forgot! They are too busy paying all the child abuse settlements.
    Never mind.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • Gene Church

      The Church does provide for kids. And they aren't unwanted. You need prayer.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:48 am |
  17. tallulah13

    None of the catholics I know are terribly concerned about this, in fact most of them do not agree with the church on the topic of birth control because they understand that it is healthier for families to limit the number of children they have to the number they can afford. Too bad the church is immune to that bit of common sense.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Gene Church

      Too bad your friends are.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • tallulah13

      Too bad my friends are what? You make no sense, but then from your answers you appear to be one of those fanatical catholics who care more about dogma than reality.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:01 am |
    • Gene Church

      Dogma is reality. The reality is the Obama Administration wants to take away my faith and force me to pay for abortions. It won't happen.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:49 am |
    • Marry

      tallulah13 – I could not agree with you more! But, a lot of religious people think the moment they enter a church (or temple, mosque, etc.) they should leave their brain outside. I will not do that entering a church or a voting booth!
      President Obama 2012!

      February 2, 2012 at 2:53 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Too bad Gene is not capable of thinking for him/herself!!! Religion tends to do that to people...it makes an otherwise normal healthy brain go to mush and stops it from actually functioning on a rational level.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:06 am |
  18. bbrooker

    If this topic is the tipping point where you say, "Forget this, I'm voting for Romney or Gingrich" then that is just sad.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Gene Church

      Not if they are opposed to the intrinsic evil of abortion and the morning after pill.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • Manny

      This administration is so out of touch that its deported more honorable veterans than all previous administration that had enacted the law to do so. This man cares about as much as those that serve and die in combat as he cares about the average american. He has broken so many promises to his veterans and people that to vote for him would be like strapping yourself into an electric chair! These where his last words to the hundreds of veterans that have been deported so far and qoute............."When your tour ends," Obama said to those now serving, "when you touch our soil, you will be home in America that is forever here for you, just as you've been there for us. That is my promise." We hope that when the President is made aware of this situation, he will bring these troops that is forever here for them as he states.....

      February 2, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      Explain to us why exactly the morning after pill is "evil" in the case where the s'e'xual act was also evil.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:11 am |
    • PleaseUseLogic

      Gene, the morning after pill is not an abortion pill (RU486) and actually prevents many unnecessary abortions. If you are pro-life, you should be pro-plan B.
      Here's a demonstration,
      Reality Says: "Here's a pill that is simply an exogenous form of a hormone that pregnant women produce (progesterone = pro gestation = pro pregnancy hormone) that fools a body into thinking it is already pregnant, preventing ovulation. It prevents sperm and egg from ever meeting and in no way causes an abortion in any independent non-relgious research and will not work if you are already pregnant. Best of all, it has never been shown to have any adverse side effects in over 20 years of clinical use! It will prevent thousands of abortions! You must be exstatic!"

      Religious Groups: "No, I'm not interested. We're actually more interested in punishing the living than preventing abortion. Besides, I don't see how this allows me to feel superior to others or allows to me to publicly express my crazy psychiatric pathology."

      February 2, 2012 at 4:32 am |
  19. Hal B

    The Catholic Church is so out of touch with reality, it's as if the Vatican were on Mars. This is the 21st century, for god's sake, not the Dark Ages. Priests should be able to marry, woman should be able to serve as priests, and Catholics everywhere should have the right of conscience when it comes to contraception and reproduction.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:36 am |
    • Gene Church

      Catholics have a right of conscience. Obama wants to take that away. I don't want to pay for birth control and abortion for my employees. Obama says I must. I lose my right to conscience.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • Mike D

      This is part of a public service. If you don't want to offer the service in it's entirety, don't offer the service.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • Gene Church

      Mike, I have no choice. Obama says I must provide healthcare, and that all healthcare must include contraception and morning after pills.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:50 am |
    • Q

      @Gene Church – Rights of conscience have constraints when you choose to live in society. All Americans support things they find morally/theologically repugnant with their taxes and insurance premiums.

      February 2, 2012 at 2:59 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      Why do you choose to live in a dictatorship ?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:11 am |
    • Leif

      @Gene Church. The Catholic Church does not have the right to discriminate against its non-Catholic employees.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:23 am |
    • Not so

      Uh Leif, according to a very recent Supreme Court decision, they actually DO have the right to discriminate as they please – it was interpreted as part of their Freedom of Religion.

      This is what happens when right-wing activist judges legislate from the bench.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • Inconvenient George

      My conscious says I want to kill Gene, therefore I have a right to do that. OMG. What a fucking idiot.

      February 2, 2012 at 3:43 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      "Obama says I must provide healthcare, and that all healthcare must include contraception and morning after pills."

      So providing protection against unwanted pregnancies is a bad thing??? You're a dolt Gene!!! First off the morning after pill is not doing anything more than ensuring that a pregnancy doesn't occur (it is called morning after for a reason and there is no god damn way a woman could know if she was pregnant that quickly, so it is not doing any harm). Second, are you blind?? The population of the world sits at 7 billion, if this keeps increasing we will have depleted our food resources by 50% within the next 18 years...so bringing more children in to this world means we further cause havoc and potentially allow those children to starve. Third, a woman's body and her personal choices are not yours or the churches business.
      Your choice to remain stupid is not the world's problem. Obama was right to do what he did and yes he more than likely will be re-elected...your nothing vote won't make that difference.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:55 am |
    • Rubedo

      @Gene-You may also be against the unnatural heart transplant, but you're not the person lying on the death-bed. If your employee uses contraception or has an abortion, it's not your doing. Just pay your share of insurance for employees and quit using the 'conscience' word for not wanting to pay. I would hate to be your employee with your mindset.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  20. Q

    Can't believe someone hasn't embedded an "Every Sperm is Sacred" youtube yet...

    February 2, 2012 at 1:36 am |
    • JLS639

      I am going to have to sell you for medical experiments, Q, because I cannot fool God by accidentally cutting off my... um, I should not say here...

      February 2, 2012 at 2:02 am |
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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.