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. Scott

    All you need is a shift of 2 or 3 % of the Catholic vote... and then Obama has a problem. And that small shift has nothing to do with whether or not Catholics contracept like everyone else. Perception is often reality.. and the shift could be Obama's disaster. Someone wrote that the Courts would probably back the churches in any church-state battle. Maybe this can be a marketing opportunity for some insurance companies – sell coverage for abortions and contraceptives in the private market.

    February 2, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  2. No Love For obama

    Hope obama loses all the votes, how can a Christian actually vote for a muslim anti-christ lieing idiot like him, they cannot, will not and just plain WON'T

    February 2, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • kerpluk01

      Frankly don't care if he is muslim, although i don't think he is. I will not vote for PBO. Almost voted for him the first time around, but instead wrote in a candidate.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  3. al

    Many of us feel betrayed. We were assured by the administration that the health care law would not lead to exactly what they have done – try to impose their secular/social beliefs on the church through health mandates and fines. They have left the Chuirch with no choice even after most of us supported its health care legislation. It's not about contraception and sterilization, which are elective by the way, it's about freedom of religion and the freedom to follow one's beliefs within the context of that religion.

    February 2, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • Jacob

      I have an idea! Since the Church says God has given us free will, why don't we just trust individuals on the Church's healthcare insurance to not go out and purchase birth control.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • G

      How can you feel betrayed? There is a seperation of church and state in this country. I say keep your beliefs to yourself. If you are against birth control don't use it. I say we tax all the church's assets since they are getting involved in politics.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:18 am |
  4. Steven.Morning

    I say to the Catholic Church – Clean up your own mess (pedophile priests) before you start to work on this country. Newt is new to the church and he just converted so he could get a new (3rd) wife. I have been a catholic all my life, as my father and his father before me. The Church Does NOT tell me what to do. As to my Vote right now belongs to Obama, I will not stand for all the Lying that the Republican Party is doing now, and yes I am a Life Long Republican.

    February 2, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • al

      Right after the public school system cleans up its mess, which according to all statistics is far worse than the church's. The difference is that many people have no choice but to send their kids to public schools. Just look at the LA county schools, for one. Oh, and by the way, in most states, one cannot sue the district for pedophelia. Talk about a double standard.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • bigot

      "Right after the public school system cleans up its mess, which according to all statistics is far worse than the church's"

      Yeah because the church covers these things up and they are never reported. if you think otherwise you are naive

      February 2, 2012 at 7:43 am |
  5. John

    Yes, Obama has lost this Catholic's vote!

    February 2, 2012 at 7:04 am |
  6. Thor

    Christianity is a good buisness in which to make a profit. Yeah Christianity!

    February 2, 2012 at 6:59 am |
  7. Walter Johnson

    I am a Catholic and I agree with the Obama Administration decision. We need more standardization of health insurance policy terms so people can actually compare prices for the same thing. It costs the nation a fortune just to run the system the way it is. I asked one chain store pharmcist two or three years ago how many prescription plans they are participating providers in and he told me about 2,000 plans, and many of those plans have as many as 10,000 subplans with separate coverage terms and pricing. The pharmacy is unable to fill any prescriptions when the computer is not working because they have zero idea what price to charge without the computer telling them. Americans deserve more uniformity than that.

    Besides Catholic hospitals are no different than any other hospitals or businesses that aren't only preaching, except in the amount of charity care they provide. The staff are not screenable for religious preference by law and practicality, although I suspect they are more willing to take on volunteer hep from the same religion as the hospital's affiliation. I have always been opposed to requiring any church sponsored medical facility to actually provide abortions or other not religiously acceptable to that denomination service, but they are not being asked to provide contraceptives to their employees at work, only to adhere to uniform national standards of what a health plan must include. It isn't just the federal government either that sets some standards. States too mandate services such as mental health care that many people believe they will never need but which by law in some states is given equal status in coverage with other forms of medical care.

    Religons can't be protected from everything in society. A church can for example believe in praying away illness, which I consider foolish, since God expects us to do what we can for ourselves, but when a minor child or a dependent spouse clearly needs medical care the courts force that care on the family for those individuals who without any health insurance would then probably be unlikely to pay the bill that results. Coming from such odd religions is not a good way to advance a career. Could such a person for example be a supervisor and risk the company's future by denying care for a work related injury?

    Grow up America. Through our taxes, even before Obama's health reform, half of all health care in the nation is ultimately paid for by tax dollars. that includes the medical care of military and civil service employees as well as care paid for indigent medical services and national wide state-federal partnership programs like Medicare and Medicaid. We all have a vested interest in medical efficiency which has declined as complexity of billing has increased and demanded more support staff. If you eliminate all of the billing related staff costs, only 20% of the real national health care need is paid for by health insurance and cash customers with no government funds involved. Why on Earth do so many Americans want to keep a health care system that is 50% more expensive than European health care?

    Simplicity lowers costs, not just a little, but a lot, while uniform, such as represented by what Medicare Supplements have to provide, makes shopping for health insurance doable.

    February 2, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Whoru

      You are not catholic based on what you wrote, so you might want to pretend you're a different religion. And I'd you knew anything about economics you'd know this horrible obamacare is going to destroy medicine in this country. You don't even understand how but just believe its a good thing based on how the liberal media has explained it. You think Europe has a good medical system? Lol go live there!

      February 2, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • WASP

      @walter johnson: i admire your post and would love to sit and chat with you. you sound like a very intelligent and well educated american. i thank you for being such. i myself am atheist, regardless intelligent minds can discuss social topics with civility unlike others i have witnessed on these blogs. america is far behind other countries in equal rights, health services, fair wages.....well we have a ways to go atleast.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • UncleBenny

      Whoru: Who gave you the right to declare who's Catholic and who's not? And where does your economic expertise come from? Walter Johnson cites facts & numbers. What is the basis of your claim that "Obamacare" is going to ruin America? (I suspect your source is Fox News, that bastion of thoughtful discourse).

      And for the record, I would take European health care anyday. Not to mention the system in Canada, where I now live. Yes, it has problems, which are mostly caused by government's refusal to address the structural issues (like all governments everywhere). But everyone has access to health care. And administrative costs don't gobble the huge amounts of money that they do in the US.

      Did you know that the US health care system greatly increases the cost of doing business in the US? Why do you think there are Canadian auto plants producing cars for the US manufacturers? General Motors spends more money per US-built car on health care than it does on STEEL and saves thousands of dollars per car by building them in Canada.

      And before you hyperpatriots tell me to stay in Canada and STFU, let me say that I am happy to stay here, as a native-born American now living in a country where we take care of each other, a country that doesn't start wars that spiral out of control (that doesn't start wars, period), where I don't have to worry about whether the guy in the next car has a gun or not, and where religion stays where it belongs, in the church and in the homes of believers and NOT in the halls of government.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  8. BradKT

    Conservative Catholics aren't going to vote for President Obama...but then they didn't vote for him the last time either.

    A great many Cattholics...liberal and moderate...practice birth control. This issue is not going to affect their votes in any way.

    The other point is that while this letter that was read to the congregations in several Catholic churches, it was NOT read to the congregations in may other ones.

    With the forgoing said, I think that the Obama Administration has overreached on this issue and would have been wise to simply stay out of it. I believe that the federal courts are going to back those religious groups who will refuse to comply with the HHS mandate to pay for coverage for birth control for employees at religious hospitals as part of their employer-provided health care on First Amendment grounds.

    February 2, 2012 at 6:53 am |
  9. eunice


    February 2, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • Brainwashing Children With "Christianity"

      Maybe you might try "cleaning" up your prose before you ever write again.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • longtooth

      That's a great imitation of Owen Meany!

      February 2, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • Steven.Morning

      Right on Brother! – you hit the nail on the head - How is that for "prose".

      February 2, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • Anne S.

      I think you better check things out before you spout off about the Catholic priests. First of all what you are talking about happens in other religions or beliefs also. Those other religions and or beliefs far out way the Catholic priests. I believe I read that it was only 7% of the Catholic priests, and the others far out weighed that percentage. We just don't hear about those cases like the Catholic priests.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • bigot

      sorry but that 7% is of reported incidents....If you believe that figure is accurate, I have swamp land in florida to sell you. Fact is many of those molestations that happen in the church never get reported, or they are covered up.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • UncleBenny

      And kindly turn off your Caps Lock button. Do you have any idea how annoying that is?

      February 2, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    February 2, 2012 at 6:38 am |
    • Brainwashing Children With "Christianity"

      Atheists, perhaps, don't need a prayerbook to tell them what is right? Very telling if one needs a "bible" to tell them not to hurt other people.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • just sayin

      An atheist influencing children is the vilest form of child abuse

      February 2, 2012 at 6:53 am |
    • Brainwashing Children With "Christianity"

      Atheists produce kinder children.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • just sayin

      Atheists are trying to deny children eternal security, Jesus warned of the dangers of losing your soul, atheists deny the soul and try to drag the innocent to perdition with them. Atheists abuse the souls of all children.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • bigot

      "Atheists are trying to deny children eternal security, Jesus warned of the dangers of losing your soul, atheists deny the soul and try to drag the innocent to perdition with them. Atheists abuse the souls of all children."

      No, Atheists are trying to protect children from indoctrination. Im not atheist, but agnostic, and I'd want my child to be able make up his or her own mind about a subject when they are capable of logic decisions. Children's minds are so pliable that its no wonder the church preys on the youth. And just FYI, the people who wrote about Jesus never knew him and everything he "SAID" is hearsay at best, speculation at worst. Those are the words of mere mortals, not god.

      February 2, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  11. Name*Chedar

    This time, if they ate real catholic and they don't vote for Obama, they will be real stupid as they forget the destroyer of this economy are non but the Republican. We couldn't get our head above water ever since Bush Bering this country to it's knees by creating two unpaid wars.

    February 2, 2012 at 5:59 am |
    • John

      Nice unsupported statement. President Bush got us out of the 2000 recession the democrat clinton put the USA in and kept us out of a 9/11 recession. Pelosi and the liberals ran the USA into the ground starting in 2007. Pelosi said America should pay more for gas, and that is what started the loss of jobs. Obama just added to the liberal destruction by promoting unemployment and over regulation industries.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:20 am |
    • john is sooo stupid

      john, are your retarded? seriously. do you have an i.q. of 40? your comment is the stupidest comment i have ever read. you are a moron.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:29 am |
    • Thor

      I think that I understand the essence of your reperatoire, however, your abject anachornistice prose is defferent to a suboptimum cognition. Perhaps a little more advancement in your college courses might help!

      February 2, 2012 at 6:40 am |
    • Nice Try Thor

      anachornistice? You mean anachronistic? If you want to gussy it up and sound intellectual, you'd be well served making sure you get it right.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • UncleBenny

      reperatoire?anachornistice?defferent? Do you have any idea what suboptimum cognition even means?

      "Perhaps a little more advancement in your college courses might help!" And, pray tell, what college did you go to? Don't use big words if you can't spell them or use them properly in a sentence.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  12. Paul

    Catholic Church doctrine teaches that abortions are wrong. Contraception, in the eyes of the church is also wrong. You cannot be Catholic and be pro choice. Lives of innocent unborn children must be protected. The Catholic Church has reasons for its stand on contraception. I cannot explain it in this short space, but these reasons are grounded in sound social and ethical concepts. Since Roe v. Wade, the moral fabric of our nation has been unraveling, leading to confusion and despair among our people. I urge everyone not to accept this immorality and stand opposed to it at every occasion.

    February 2, 2012 at 5:27 am |
    • save the sanctimony

      sorry to break it to you, st. paul, but most "catholics" are of the non-practicing variety - 80 percent use birth control. deal with it. and follow the law.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:23 am |
    • Stuck in the Middle

      Catholics are leaving the church in droves and you want the rest of the world to continue living according to the whim of a gang of pedophiles and criminals? Get a grip and grow up.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • HPNIII

      Lets get back down to earth please. First of all if the number of Catholics who practiced birth control were to grow a horn on their head, the world would look like it is being invaded by an alien species. Second of all you only have to pay for those items IF YOU PURCHASE THEM. If you don't purchase them you are UNAFFECTED by the law. Why would anyone object about something that does not affect them. Total stupidity if you ask me.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • David.Elder

      As a Life Long Catholic and as a board member of my local church - I am Pro Choice – "My Church does NOT speak for me nor Do I speak for my church." I would Never take away from my daughters there God given right to choose – They are NOT just Ribs as the Elders of the church wants us to believe. And I will tell these to anyone in the church.– anyone! And yes the church, just like the country, is divided.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • Bibletruth

      Because someting is wrong that does not make it sin. I may spell a wird wrong but that is not a sin. Abortion is a sin. It is a heinous sin.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  13. jeanne

    Let's see...The abortion President-the gay President- the anti Christian President...I'd say he is loosing ALL the Christians in this country....the one's who truely believe and live their faith that is.

    February 2, 2012 at 5:11 am |
    • Kate

      Well amen to that, relgiion should be in the home, there should be separation of church and state. the founders came here for religious freedom not for religious forcism. keep your christian beliefs to yourself. I'll keep my athetistic views to myself. Do what is best for our fellow travellers on this planet and this country, unless of course you are only interested in christians.. if christians could only see how evil and intolerable they are to others. sad.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:25 am |
    • BleedingEdj

      The biggest threat to this planet is over population. The catholics are up in arms about birth control? How about pedophile preists? Clean up your currents messes before you whine about new ones.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:37 am |
  14. VRage13

    The ACLU is always suing for separation of church and state.......where are they now? Just a bunch of hypocrits obviously,

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

      Yeah, why can't the ACLU help suppress the non-catholic employees?

      February 2, 2012 at 5:11 am |
    • Agreed

      Separation of Church and State cuts both ways. Church shouldn't control state and state should not control church.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  15. lonewolf

    What would it matter! Obama will get back in office and we will have 4 more years of screw ups. The people who want him in wants the rest of us to kiss his black a$$ with them. They better wake up before then. If not the next 4 yrs we could hand our a$$ over to the rest of the world the way he wants to run things. Wake up before it's to late!

    February 2, 2012 at 4:44 am |
    • black a$$ don't need white lips

      dude, racist much? rant on, my man. you seem to be one of the brighter goobers. you already figured out that a black dude will be banging a black chick in the lincoln bedroom for at least four more years. eat your black heart out. lmao.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:26 am |
    • Stuck in the Middle

      Thanks for so vividly confirming what we already knew. Racist bigots like youu would rather see America burn than Obama succeed. Sorry but that's the most un-American sentiment I've read in a long time. Grow up and accept that being white doesn't make you special.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:35 am |
    • Thor

      If chitlins and Kentucky Fried Chicken aren't involved, you won't get their attention... unless you have a watermelon patch!

      February 2, 2012 at 6:48 am |
  16. manhandler

    Guess the writer doesn't know that a solid majority of Catholics use birth control...So much for the premise of THAT article.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:30 am |
  17. Inconvenient George

    Actually, Angry Gene is mostly po'd at his church, because they chose to take Federal funds, and they won't stop that, to convenience him. The religious hospitals are subject to ALL KINDS of regulatory mandates. he really has no idea what goes on in those inst'itutions.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:30 am |
  18. Stonesrule

    Catholics were flat – out LIED to about health care reform and its stance on abortion. Look at the words and then the actions of Obama......No Christian or Jew should ever support this liar. There is no justification or defense for his treatment of people of faith. Compare news clips prior to health reform and then this week with Sebelious. Slap in the face...

    February 2, 2012 at 4:26 am |
    • mark

      Real faith does not have boundaries except those put there by men. We have been given brains by ....... We are supposed to use them. Faith only stands up if a person can step outside of one's beliefs and challenge them every day. If they hold up, keep them. But don't be confined by them.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:56 am |
    • Stuck in the Middle

      If you want myth, go to a church, but stop expecting the rest of us to live according to your outdated stone age fantasy. The RCC is so desperate for money that they're actually advertising. What a joke thay've become. The dinosaurs like religion became extinct because they coudln't adapt to a changing world. Adapt or fade away, soon.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:40 am |
  19. mark

    Religions all have their views, but Catholics think for themselves just like people in all religions. Remember, your religion might be your Republicanism or Democratism, or maybe your liberalism or conservatism. It is best not to identify with any group. Just vote for the person you think would do the best job for a nation of people who are free to believe and think as they wish.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:17 am |
  20. Samian

    I disagree with the contention that Obama is losing the Catholic vote.


    1) 98% of Catholic women use birth control. That's a huge proportion of Catholics right there.

    2) Religiously observant Catholics voted against pro-choice Obama back in 2008, and they'll vote against him again in 2012.

    3) The only Catholics who are really going to be upset at the contraception mandate are the religious ones, who wouldn't have voted for Obama anyway.

    4) Secular Catholics have more important things to worry about (e.g., the economy) when casting their votes.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • Jeanne

      Well if they are ONLY worried about the economy...then they are NOT going to vote for Obama...unless they are stupid!

      February 2, 2012 at 5:14 am |
    • J

      1) Source?

      2) Untenable. This religiously observant Catholic and many others voted for Obama, because we're not single-issue voters.

      3) Again, where is this coming from. There are religious Catholics who may not agree with the policy, but they vote on other issues, like who actually has an agenda for helping the poor, enforcing justice, and who is more dedicated to education.

      4) I don't even know what you mean by a "secular Catholic". You mean non-practicing? Newsflash, all Catholics, just like all citizens, have important things to worry about, some prioritize some issues over others. You sound like someone who hasn't really explored this issue before you started typing....whatever, I guess it's my fault for reading a CNN message board.

      And Jeanne – Mitt Rommey doesn't care about you.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:01 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.