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. Age of Reason

    So if a religion forbids blood transfusions then they do not have to provide health coverage to their employees that covers it? Ridicluous. Contraception is life and death. Ever watch someone die of AIDS?

    February 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • maggie

      I probably wouldn't go down that road. Following the Catholic mantra, the AIDs person deserved it for his/her immoral behavior. God's punishment.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • sam

      Well, if god gives you cancer, you should pray to god to cure you of it. No health care required. [/sarcasm]

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

    How can the White House compel anyone to do anything? If we are going to rule by executive order and the whims of the President we might as well just shut down Congress and become the dictatorship that Obama obviously wants.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Age of Reason

      If you don;t want birth control, then don't get it. See how that works?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  3. Justice4All

    Every election year the political world talks about the MEANINGLESS birth control issue!!! It's so DEAD! Birth Control means absolutly nothing when we are trying to get jobs, keep our homes, pay for health care and feed our children....and they want to talk about freaking Birth control? Clearly, a ploy to divert the real issues at hand....

    February 8, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  4. Obvious

    everyone is missing the obvious. The people who want birth control in their healthplan shouldn't work for a Catholic supported facility; there are other business to work for who will provide this coverage. Also, there are other healthcare facilities they can choose to use; they don't have to go to a Catholic supported healthcare facility. It seems our choices are being taken away by the government. When I had my tubaligation I didn't go to a Catholic facility, I choose one who performs the services I requested. I also work in the medical field and choose not to work for a Catholic facility. It really is that simple people.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • sam

      The choices are being widened, not taken away. The point is that people should be able to choose where they go and get equal healthcare. Catholic hospitals should stop hiring people who aren't catholic...oops, that's illegal. They should also fire any catholic that doesn't hold to the standards of the religion, especially those who use contraceptives....oops, that's illegal too.

      The point is to give everyone equal choices. Not to open the door for this employer or that employer to decide you can't have a particular treatment because of their faith.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Cincinnati girl

    This is not an assault on religious believes. This is about health care. It's about ensuring that employees have a choice in their coverage that is affordable. If a church chooses to operate a business then it should be held to the same standards as a business. That's the real definition of church and state. Religious freedom means I am able to choose my beliefs and apply them how I see fit to my life. I'm also free from living under the thumb of someone eles's beliefs. Sorry but the pope doesn't dictate the access I have to affordable health care. This entire issue feels manufactured and not as big of a deal as some in the media are trying to make it.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • maggie

      I've already seen thousands of posts like yours. If the Republicans and/or the Catholic church thinks that the 98% of the Catholic women who already avail themselves of these forbidden things are going to switch to the Republican party on this issue alone, they have another thing coming. I think it will galvanize women who are currently sitting on the fence, if anything. As to those conservative women who feel strongly enough to vote Republican on this issue alone, who ya gonna vote for? Romney? If anything, I think this will backfire on Republicans if Romney is the nominee because he doesn't have a leg to stand on and many will just stay home.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Muldoon in Ohio

      I don't think the catholic bishops (or christian conservatives) have any interest in violating anyone's right to healthcare options that are legally allowed by the government. Their argument is that since their religion(s) forbid contraception or abortion, they should not be forced to pay for it under the Freedom of Religion amendment. My own opinion is that the Obama administration will compromise and come up with some other option, lest this wind up before the Supreme Court where the religions are likely to win.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • maggie

      Not so sure about that Muldoon, I think this is a multipronged problem for the Bishops that go beyond Obama. What do they do about the 28 states that already have such laws on the books at the state level?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  6. maggie

    Soooo, who are all of these Catholics going to vote for instead? Romney? The hypocrite who mandated it for very Catholic Massachusetts during his term as governor?

    February 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm |

    It's not as if the government is forcing people to USE birth control, only that it be available. I'm sorry Catholics – your insurance has to make this available. Your workers aren't all Catholic, and it's discriminatory to require those workers to conform to your religious beliefs just because they work there. Hospitals and schools are services, and service workers have the freedom of religion as well.
    Catholics would do well to offer these things but then people refuse to use them. But usually you see the opposite – Catholics who use birth control, get abortions, etc. It would show a lot more conviction of belief if those workers had access to birth control and refused it. But most Catholics agree with Catholicism publicly and break the rules privately.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  8. Drawingaline

    King Obama has spoken and all his loyal subjects, I see are lining up to support him! I think I would rather dance in the hot coals with the lord then side with Obama the king on this!

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

      I suggest you vote for Romney instead. Oops, he did it too!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      I guess the line that your drawing is a partisan far right wing one.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  9. mk1

    I misspoke, I meant NOT mandating earlier.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  10. renaldo

    All they have to do is quit taking Federal funds. Then they can do anything they want. The church should quit sucking government milk.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  11. Alexa

    If he folds, I'm sitting this one out.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  12. tstorm

    The Church doesn't even want you to use condoms. I think it's time people wake up and take care of their own matters instead of letting the Vatican talk for them.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  13. J

    While the gov't is at it, let them force us to do good things like...give to charity, volunteer, be a bone marrow or organ donor.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      What a wonderfully inane post u have.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  14. mk1

    What is frustrating is that this is really a non issue as it is already the law in 28 states and it is not a mandate. As was said earlier, they are mandating people take birth control, simply make it available to those who want it. This comes right back to a bunch of men wanting to tell women what they can and can not do with their bodies. You have a male dominated church dictating to women what they can do. The majority of American Catholic women take birth control anyway thus they should be mad at their church for trampling on their rights. Sometime the women of the world will rise up and woe is be to the men who have and want to control them. To me it can not come soon enough.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  15. Dan

    Typical conservative, ultra-right rhetoric. No one is saying you HAVE to get birth control. The Obama admin is simply ensuring the right to birth control on EVERY American's insurance plans, regardless of their employer's religious-or-not affiliation. If you don't want birth control, DON'T GET IT!!!!!!! It's the same exact thing as the right-controlled FCC...if you don't like what's on television, TURN THE CHANNEL!!!!!!! (Btw, don't be so naive...you'd be surprised at how many so-called "Christians" use birth control anyway...)

    February 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • maggie

      let the ultra right have their rhetoric. Who are they gonna vote for in the fall? Romney?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  16. Matt

    Religious people are such sissy whiners. The product is AVAILABLE, not FORCED.... tw1ts....

    February 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • J

      when the church is forced to provide it regardless of its beliefs then it IS forced.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Get Real

      When a Church wants my tax money it plays by the rules. Period.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  17. Chuck

    Considering that many third world countries are Catholic and that the planet has way too many people already it's beyond time that contraception not only be discussed but practiced. This is a NO brainer.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things!!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • NeutralMind

      Get a life!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Matt

      No, it doesnt. Prayer makes you expect something, and when it happens by chance or otherwise, you give credit to an invisible god who had NOTHING to do with it.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • l

      Actually Atheism is quite healthy... btw this country was found to have freedom of religion. so those like yourself can live in what others consider a made up believe world based on fairy tails. just keep your fantasies to yourself.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • DGS

      Prayer – how to do nothing and still feel like you're contributing.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  19. TDiddy

    I left a couple million of my potential children on your daughters face last night...is that a form of birth control?

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

      You are a pig!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  20. Ian

    This is just a way to get people to move forward, when they take too long to do so. If a woman wants to use birth control, they should be allowed to.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:12 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.