February 7th, 2012
05:02 PM ET

Battle escalates over Obama rule for contraception coverage at Catholic institutions

By Dan Gilgoff and Lesa Jansen, CNN

(CNN) - The battle over a new White House policy compelling Catholic institutions to cover contraception in health insurance plans continues to escalate, with Republican presidential candidates denouncing the rule, liberal groups spotlighting Catholic support for contraception, and the Obama administration vowing to confront religious concerns head on.

"The president's interest is in making sure that … all women here have access to the same preventive care services,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.

“He is also concerned about and understands the religious concerns that have been raised,” Carney said, stressing that the White House would work to see if “the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns.”

Earlier Tuesday, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, David Axelrod, signaled that the president might be open to compromise on the issue.

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms,” Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.”

But the dispute - spurred by a late January announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that all employers, including Catholic hospitals and schools, will be required to offer free access to FDA-approved contraceptives like the birth control pill and Plan B (the so-called morning-after pill) through health insurance plans - shows no signs of dying down.

”Implementing the policy as is and allaying the concerns are mutually exclusive," Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Tuesday. "If they want to allay concerns, they need to change the policy. Nothing less will do."

Churches are exempt from the policy, which goes into effect August 1, and religious institutions that oppose contraception have been given a yearlong extension to comply.

The Roman Catholic Church, which opposes the use of contraception, continued Tuesday to signal that it is intent on resisting the new policy.

“The bishops aren’t going to stop until this is fixed, and that means pursuing every legal means available to them to fix it,” Picarello said.

The flap was thrust further into the national political spotlight on Tuesday, as Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attacked the new rule in his victory speech on a night that he swept primaries and caucuses in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

The administration had told American Catholics that “you have a right to health care, but you will have the health care that we tell you you have to give your people, whether it’s against the teachings of your church or not,” Santorum said in his Missouri speech.

“I never thought, as a first-generation American, whose parents and grandparents loved freedom and came here because they didn’t want the government telling them what to believe and how to believe … that we’d have a president of the United States who would roll over that and impose his secular values on the people of this country.”

His GOP rival Mitt Romney has continually denounced the Health and Human Services rule in recent weeks.

Speaking in Loveland, Colorado, on Tuesday, Romney said the rule was “in violation of the religious conscience of (Catholic) organizations.”

“This kind of assault on religion will end if I am president of the United States,” he said.

A survey released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute found that Catholics are divided over whether religious colleges and hospitals should have to provide employees with health insurance that covers birth control at no cost. Forty-five percent of Catholic voters support such a requirement, while 52% oppose it.

“Given how closely divided Catholic voters are over the requirement that religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception,” said Daniel Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute, “it seems unlikely that this issue will galvanize Catholics nationally and seriously undermine Obama's electoral prospects with this important religious constituency.”

Planned Parenthood also released a survey on the rule Tuesday; it found that 53% of Catholics think that women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage as other women.

“The message to Democrats is that this is something all women deserve to have and that religion just shouldn’t be an issue with it,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, which conducted the survey for Planned Parenthood.

Over the past two weekends, the American Catholic hierarchy has distributed letters harshly condemning the Health and Human Services policy to be read at parishes nationwide during Mass.

“We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law,” Kansas City, Kansas, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann wrote in a letter to parishes last weekend. “Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help rebuild America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights.”

The rule has also drawn the ire of some influential evangelicals. “I'm not a Catholic but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against govt pressure,” influential California-based pastor Rick Warren said in a tweet Tuesday night.

“I'd go to jail rather than cave in to a govement mandate that violates what God commands us to do,” Warren tweeted in a separate message. “Would you?”

- CNN's Brianna Keilar contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Politics

soundoff (1,120 Responses)
  1. RichWW2

    "that we’d have a president of the United States who would roll over that and impose his secular values on the people of this country"

    So he can't impose his values, but you are allowed to impose yours? Oh the sweet sweet irony...

    February 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • B.

      WOW.. the logic makes my head spin.. How is that happening? What he is saying is that Government has no right or should have no right to dictate that an employer include benefits that are contrary to thier core beliefs. He is not saying that plans that offer it are illegal or should be.. I think he would be just as opposed to the Federal Government mandating that contraception be banned from all healthplans. Either way... It is NOT the governments role to dictate this.. especially when that being mandated is against the core beliefs of the owner.. If people don't like the benefit plans offered; then go work somewhere else. CONTRACEPTION IS NOT A RIGHT IT IS A PREFERENCE.. And this preference should be mandated by the Federal Government..

      February 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • BrandoRTP

      @ "B" Contraceptives are often used in the treatment of non-reproductive related women's health and immune disorders. Endometriosis, Ovarian Cysts, Asthma, Allergies, Hormonal imbalances etc. are all frequently treated with a hormone augmentation therapy that fall under the blanket category of "Birth Control"

      I think that is probably the basis of the argument JUST AS MUCH as the proceedings regarding the morality of preventing reproduction that results from intercourse. The bible says God's followers should "Bare many fruit" and "Not to spill one's seed" but it also says to seek out the sick and the poor and to tend to them and fight for their well being.

      In essence, the Catholic church, in my opinion, should agree to pay for birth control on the basis it be used to treat symptoms if needed, not prevent pregnancy. I do believe that the government has no place in determining if active pregnancy prevention should be paid for by an organization that opposes the act, but that's a separate argument from protecting a woman's health unless pregnancy itself is the risk to their well being.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  2. JohnRJohnson

    The Catholic church wants special treatment. It wants to be able to operate for-profit companies which are outside of the church itself and not have to live by the same laws as other businesses. It wants to be able to avoid providing contraceptives in its health plans and hospitals, even though non-Catholic hospitals and insurance companies are required to do so. It would deny these benefits to non-Catholics who rely on it for medical care. The same people who are screaming about this are probably the same people who are claiming that Sharia law is creeping into the country. The idea that we are arguing about these positively medieval practices is absurd, especially given all the other problems the country needs to solve right now.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • K2

      Well said! The Catholic Church wants preferential treatment claiming it an affront to Religious freedom when it isn't.

      Perhaps the Catholic Church would be happy if we denied all Catholics access to any birth control. I'm sure the high percentage of Catholics who currently use contraceptives wouldn't mind, since the Church says it's a sin.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  3. TDiddy

    Too bad obama's mamma didn't use birth control!

    February 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  4. cutedog2

    To demand a religious based organizations to provide a service that goes directly against their theological beliefs is flat wrong. Next he will be insist meat be served in the cafeteria on Friday during Lent. Another moronic Obummer declaration. This guy chafes me to my core and I am not even Catholic.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Mindie from India

      Yea I really don't think the Catholic Church is in any position to tell others how to live their lives. What is their view on pedophile priests abusing little boys?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • JohnRJohnson

      This is a secular nation of laws. If a church wants to start operating for-profit businesses which are outside of the church doors, then those businesses must be subject to the same laws as any other business. Nobody is being compelled to use contraceptives, nor are these hospitals being forced to give contraceptives to people who don't want them. Failure to abide by this law would open the door to any religions starting businesses which could then avoid the rules by which all other businesses have to play. If you don't want to play by the rules, then don't go onto the field.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  5. RichWW2

    It's really a good thing our political leaders aren't mixing church and state...oh wait....

    February 8, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  6. rob

    It's too funny how POS religious fanatics think they can hide behind religion to do anything they want in society, especially spreading hatred and bigotry against others. So here's your wake up call, you can't. Everyone has to obey the laws, you're nothing special just because you conjure up an imaginary belief system. It's time to start making religious nuts pay a steep price for their actions.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • cutedog2

      To state one's religious beliefs are made up is equally hate filled. Pot, meet kettle

      February 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Mindie from India

      Yea I really don't think the Catholic Church is in any position to tell others how to live their lives. What is their view on pedophile priests abusing little boys?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • B.

      I love this response i've read... goes like this,, "What is their view on pedophile priests abusing little boys?"... Uhmmmm. I guess these people have never worked in a place or been associated with a place where bad people do bad things.. If so, and they were apart or worked at that place, then I guess they were just as guilty and deserved just as much punishment and ridicule as the person actually committing the offense.. NO.. I'm not Catholic but I bet the Catholic church condemns such actions..

      When people write crap like that they don't realize it but they are condeming themselves with every letter they type.. I guess it's judge me by my intensions while I judge you by your actions... Pityfull to say the least... And liberals think thier so smart.... When in fact, ignorance... no wait stupidity (ignorance is not knowing doing wrong; stupidity is knowingly doing something) oozes from thier mouth like the slobber from the mouth of a St. Bernard!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  7. Rena

    I wish I knew the sample size of these surveys and where and to whom these surveys are given. I've never been asked to participate in these things. I would also like to know if those who took these surveys are practicing Catholics or Catholics in name only like Sebelius and Pelosi.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  8. bspurloc

    APPARENTLY if u work for a CHURCH u r a HERETIC if u buy contraceptives.... if u were not this would not be an issue.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  9. A Recovering Catholic

    The reason most Catholic women use birth control might be the simple desire to reduce the number of children they have to keep track of. After all, what better way can you think of to protect the children from the priests?

    February 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  10. cookie

    I thought we had separation of Church and State in this country. Discussing this political topic at Mass should signal the end of tax exempt status for the Catholic church in this country. We could use their tax dollars to help expand Planned Parenthood services if they are not going to offer health benefits that include birth control benefits to women and male employees whether they are Catholic or not!

    February 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Frago

      In this case, the Catholic church is not pushing for a canditate, they are asking their parishioners to write their senators and congressmen (be they either republican or democrat). Now you take the Baptists, COGIC, some Methodists, etc. they actually invite a candidate or thier representative into their church specifically stumping for a particular candidate. In that case, I agree 100%, they have just broken their contract with the IRS, and should be taxed as if they are any other non-exempt corporation in America.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  11. Mack

    Despite what the GOP presidential candidates and the radical "Christian" Right say, this is a secular nation. Health care, like everything else, should be based on that fact, not some anti-human religious dogma.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  12. Funny

    We should force Catholics to use contraception, just to make them angry.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • SAC

      98 per cent of Catholic women use or have used birth control, including myself.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Yeah

      Just put it into the water supply.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  13. MerlinX4

    Employers (Catholic or otherwise) should have the right to offer whatever insurance they want for their employees, or even none at all if that is their wish. No one is being forced to take the jobs or benefits packages they are offering.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • bspurloc

      OR they can accept this then monitor if their employees buy them... declare them heretics and fire or hang them... if the past is any learning tool HANGing and burning them is the optimal choice

      February 8, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • SAC

      A Catholic hospital is not a church. It is a healthcare facility with a social mission to provide healthcare, They employ and treat people of all backgrounds and faiths, including those without religious faith. They receive federal and state funding to help them provide healthcare to all, including women. Reproductive healthcare is a fundamental part of women's healthcare.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • MerlinX4

      bspurloc – Or... you could ease up on the histrionics and look at the issue rationally. Employment is a mutually beneficial, completely voluntary agreement between two parties. If you don't like what an employer is offering as compensation, don't agree to work there.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • MerlinX4

      SAC – First, the mandate Obama signed applies to all Catholic employers – not just the ones that receive federal funding. Second, you may believe that morning after pills are a legitimate part of womens' health, but the Catholic Church does not. So in essence, this mandate is telling the Catholic Church that it cannot be Catholic any more – something the First Amendment is supposed to prevent.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • c

      In my city, the Catholic church operates two large hospitals where they employ thousands of people. Some are catholic ; some are not. Are you suggesting that non catholics be forced to accept not having contraceptives available in their health care plans. This is not rocket science- any employee catholic or not should be allowed to choose what they want. The catholic church has no business teling people what to do with their reproductive health or what type of insurance they want. I also find it rather interesting that these are the same people so concerned about the welfare of children that they ignored, and hid the fact that many of their preist were raping children. Personnaly ; I think they have lost their moral/spiritual authority to dictate policy on any issue concerning women or children.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • MerlinX4

      c – "Are you suggesting that non catholics be forced to accept not having contraceptives available in their health care plans."

      Not at all. I am saying if you do not like the health insurance benefits that a potential employer is offering, then don't take the job. This is not rocket science – any employer catholic or not should be allowed to offer the benefits they want.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  14. The Dude

    These churches need to be taxed. like yesterday.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • RillyKewl


      February 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • bspurloc

      exactly! exemptions should END... pay up like we have to pay... I am NOT part of your church why do MY tax dollars have to make up for your PROFITS.....

      February 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • guest

      Exactly, then they can truely do whatever they want. Problem solved, next issue?

      February 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  15. Emmy Skaddittle

    This just shows how out of touch the catholic church really is, can they please get into the 21st century.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  16. just a thought

    Anybody else note the irony in flaming Obama for imposing his "secular values" on the American people, yet Santorum insists on imposing Catholic values on the American people?

    February 8, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  17. guest

    So 48% of Catholics believe they should be allowed to use contraception. Sounds to me like this is a Catholic issue. Why would you want to join a church that tells you what to do, especially when it's run by Nazi pedafilers who are all men and have no families?

    February 8, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  18. Pat in IL

    The people speaking out against the inclusion of birth control in insurance coverage must not realize how uncaring , unintelligent, and ridiculous they sound. Just because an insurance package covers something doesn't mean everyone has to use that particular coverage. Also, has the Catholic church checked lately.........most of the Catholics do use contraceptives of some sort. Completely ridiculous argument, and their time can be much better spent.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • k

      lol...begone foul demon...logic has no place here!

      February 8, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  19. Muldoon in Ohio

    This isn't about Catholics using contraception, and it isn't just about Catholics. It's also not about individual rights of employees to have access to certain types of health coverage (employers and insurers have long controlled what coverages their employees obtain). It's about freedom of religion, and specifically how far that freedom extends into the organizations controlled by the religions recognized by the government. If the Catholic bishops make the argument that hospitals and charities they operate are an extension of their church's ministry, I believe they will prevail in this case. If Obama and the HHS want to make sure everyone has access to specific medical care that is opposed to religious law, they will need to make other provisions for this to happen.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • J.W

      But the rights of the individual will take precedence over the rights of an organization. I think the only way to compromise is if there was a provision that the contraception coverage is not mandatory, but must be available to whoever wants it.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • glyder

      all these progressive pigs need is a foot in the door and a like minded judge will do the rest.progressives,arrogance,evil.natural allies.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • RillyKewl

      Its about access for employees. No more, no less.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • B.

      Contraception is NOT a right.. It is a preference.. The organization or employer should have the ability to preclude benefits that are contrary to thier foundational beliefs.. If the person don't like the benefits, the go work somewhere else.. It is NOT the governments place to dictate benefit plans..

      February 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  20. The Dude

    One condom can prevent one less brown person on a lifetime of welfare.

    Who would be against that?

    February 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • guest

      Not just Brown, anyone who is on welfare, White, Brown, Black, Green, Orange...

      February 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
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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.