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. ThisSerious

    What’s messed up is that 27 states require insurers that cover prescription drugs to cover contraceptive drugs and devices. Missouri and Colorado are one of those states, and somehow Santorum won these 2 states based on the rhetoric of “Obama’s War on religion”. They should be mad at their state governor and legislature, not Obama for nationalizing a rule that was already approved at a state level.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  2. fistface

    Separate Church and State, Separate State from Personal Lives, Choices, Decisions, Liberty, & Freedom. After those are all separated as they should be. Do NOT use my tax dollar to supplement Church, Personal Lives, Choices, & Decisions people make for themselves. Tax me less, spend less, and if you really feel compelled to keep a bit of pork in that fat Federal Belly... at least use my tax dollar too help supplement wounded veterans and/or assist wartime veterans in some of the things they need to re-integrate back into their country after serving it. Thanks.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • ThisSerious

      Obama already helped in that regard, look up the Hire Veterans Act, and the half a million Post-9/11 G.I. Bill 2008 and 2010.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • ThisSerious

      * Half a million solders helped by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill

      February 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  3. nebraska

    The Catholic church is not being required to pay for birth control. I think it's hilarious that they are stating it that way. What if you have a couple that is unable to have children, or choose not to. They are still paying for health insurance that covers pregnancy even tho they will never use it. Same deal.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • sharky

      No they are being required to provide it, and birth control is against their beliefs.

      So if they want the healthcare bennies or whatever, the mandate stipulates they have to provide birth control.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  4. RJ

    As soon as he makes it mandatory that all welfare recipient who pop out babies to get more of my tax dollars then I will agree with making it mandatory for any church or employer to provide it.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  5. mike from iowa

    Religion is a mental disease. People with the disease are psychopathic. They are compelled to force their disease on everyone else, and the religious will never, ever stop until they've succeeded or have been wiped out of existance. As long as their is just one of them left, the sole goal will be to "spread the word" and indoctrinate everyone.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Tim

      Interesting perspective.....I believe, hence I must be "wiped out of existance"..... who again is the psychopath in this scenario?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • steelerguin

      Interesting perspective. Most people would think "wiping out" someone who doesn't think like you is a mental disease.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • steve g

      so you're settled that 100% religious followers are determined to spread the word and enlist everyone to their way? if so, then i'm gonna pull the BS card because my in-laws are LDS and do not try to force the word on anyone. and i have a different track of religious beliefs but could care less what the person behind me in the checkout lane could believe.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Actually, and you can believe me on this, most Christians are okay people. They know what they believe, and they understand that they will live their entire lives without ever seeing a shred of proof of God's existence. They don't try to shove it at others, they just believe it.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  6. Lando

    What's wrong with offering a health insurance that covers contraception. Employees have the right to make choice regardless of religious belief or affiliation. It's just like Romney's employees having the right to vote for Obama or vice versa.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  7. JePammy

    I am Catholic and in this issue I believe YOU the invididual have a choice. We have to live in a responsible society and I'm sorry but you can look at our world and those that don't "use" contraceptives having 8 to 10 children they can't feed...with horrible levels of poverty. Many out there need birth control for medication, the ones that don't want it..then don't use it.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Jebbb

      Your're right JePammy. It is the Church which is being intolerant and displaying religious bigotry. No one is compelling anybody to use contraception. In this case the Church is trying to deny easy access to contraception for women who don't agree with the Church's current religious dogma on this issue and would use contraception if available. In many cases, this is a health and well-being issue for women and families, either to space children or to avoid pregnancy during a time of illness which could be fatal to the mother or transmitted to the child. Its a shame the Teapublicans seize on this to smear Obama. And shame on the Church for dishonestly stating health insurance covering contraception is an assault on religious freedom. You lie. You are entirely free to both avoid contraception, although maybe some priests should use it, and loudly and publicly preach, write and declaim against it. No one is curtailing your rights. No one. Learn to respect the rights of dissenters, something you've had trouble with for 2000 years.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  8. Am I Missing Something?

    Catholic organizations have no problem paying non-Catholics to work for them and those non-Catholic's can take that money that was paid to them and pay for an abortion, go gambling in Vegas, buy medical marijuana, buy condoms or even visit a Nevada "Chicken Ranch" if they want to, all funded by the Catholic Church, but don't you dare tell the Church they have to pay into a healthcare system where some employee's may choose to use those health benefits to pay for contraceptives? Or am I missing something??

    February 8, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • B-Squared

      Yes, you are missing something. This doesn't have to do with how individuals spend the money they have individually earned.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Am I Missing Something?

      " This doesn't have to do with how individuals spend the money they have individually earned." It isn't? So these costs paid into the healthcare system are not "earned benefits" generated by individual workers working a certain numbers of hours which require they and their employer to pay into which provides benefits that that individual would not get if they had not worked those number of hours? Is this money they are "forced" to pay considered a gift and not an earned benefit? You do know what "earned" means right B?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  9. sharky

    Ok here is the thing, I full well understand and completely get the Catholic Church's side. I am not a fan of the church by any means, but everyone wants to scream and shout about how dare religion be involved with the state and people squawk about the separation of church and state yadda yadda, so why is the state allowed to NOW tell the church what to do?
    You people cannot have it both ways. You scream, shout, complain profusely about religion getting into the "state" but then you all attack the church for not wanting the state to be involved or tell the church what to do.

    You cannot have it both ways.

    Just as I do NOT think it is correct to have the "state" involved with the church, I also do NOT accept the church being involved with the "state."

    Example, I am 100% pro-choice completely and always will be. I sure as heck do NOT want religious people to attack the laws allowing abortion to remain legal. I find it wrong and completely unacceptable. Just like it is not acceptable for this Obamacare mandate to tell the church what to do either.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Alex Bettinger

      It's not about telling the church what to do–it's about implementing rules and regulations for ALL employers. Just because you happen to be religiously affiliated doesn't mean you get to pick and choose which laws you'll obey.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • steve g

      fair enough, but you also have to think...they are not telling employers "you have to provide this" they are saying "you have to provide this option on there" catholic school A could offer it to 100% of its employees...its up to the employee to choose whether or not to actually make use of it.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • sharky

      @Alex Bettinger–

      I'm all for birth control, however, again you missed the point of what is happening. The church, for whatever nonsense reasons, see birth control as against their beliefs. The Obamacare mandate is saying they must provide it, no matter what, to receive Obamacare, or along those lines. The Government is forcing the church to go against their beliefs. If we do not want the church to be so involved with the "state" then why allow the "state" to be so involved with the church? See.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • sharky

      steve g–

      Er well your comment is just a game of semantics there. What you said is still no different than saying you have to provide in order to receive this. However you try to phrase it is still saying to the church to go against their beliefs and having the Government telling them what to do.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Alex Bettinger

      No, I'm afraid you're the one not understanding. The church, when it runs a hospital or a school, is acting as an EMPLOYER. They hire people, pay them for labor, and so forth. Therefore, they are obligated to obey the laws of this nation that deal with the employer/employee relationship–they have to obey minimum wage laws, they have to treat workers of different genders and races equally, etc. EVERY employer must obey these laws. If one of those laws happens to conflict with an employer's religious principles, then that is too bad for the employer–they still have to follow the laws of this nation. Just because an employer is religiously affiliated doesn't mean he gets to pick and choose which laws he will follow. If you want to be an employer, then you have to follow the laws that apply to employers. If those laws conflict with your religious beliefs, then you can cease being an employer. But people do not get to pick and choose which laws they will follow because of their religious convictions. Sorry, but there is quite simply no First Amendment problem here.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  10. MikeT

    I agree. Why should Catholics have to pay for birthcontrol? Since most of them are busy molesting little boys there is no reason for them to pay for things they will never use.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  11. Veritas

    And next he'll want to require every Islamic Mosque to buy their employees a ham for Christmas, but it will be okay because nobody will be making them eat it if they don't want to, right?

    February 8, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • charlie

      a more appropriate analogy would be having an Islamic Mosque telling their employees that they can't buy ham, and then the government saying, "No, your employees should be able to choose if they want to buy a ham or not"

      February 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • smell the coffee

      Stupid comparison. You are an idiot for even writing this.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Does your mom know you are using the computer?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  12. MommaM

    Many Catholics practise birth control whether the church likes it or not – gone are the days of having families with 10 children – we can't afford them. Many Catholic families want to be able to provide for their children not be dependent on social programs which by the way Conservative Groups want to do away with. People should be able to make their own choices and the Church as an employer needs to understand that.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  13. mike form iowa

    Religion will end Life, Liverty and Happiness For All.

    "They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. "

    -Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Sept. 23, 1800

    February 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • sharky

      Oh give me a freaking break that is about the Church of England, not about religion in the US.


      February 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  14. Bad Religion

    Ugh, can you religious morons just go away!!!! I am so sick of hearing about anything that comes out how it somehow affects your moronic religious liberty. Please!? You people are the oppressors that just love to play victim.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      I bop 'em with the Clown Hammer© every chance I get.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  15. Sarbear

    @ William – As someone with polycystic ovarian syndrome, birth control is a medical necessity for me if I want to have the option of having children in the future or want to not have my ovaries removed in the future. Unlike many erectile dysfunction medicines which are covered under health insurance plans – which are a quality of life enhancement.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • jLake

      Thank you Sarbear. William's comparison of birth control pills to botox or breast implants is so misinformed!

      February 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  16. ex catholic worker

    I used to work for a catholic hospital, I am NOT catholic and the insurance provider isn't either. IT IS MY CHOICE AND I PAID FOR PARTIAL OF MY INSURANCE. I SHOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO GET BIRTH CONTROL!!!! End of story, it's my (our) right to choose as legally covered. We are not putting it down their throats so why care??? Realize you cannot control the world!

    February 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  17. simple

    When the day comes simply close all the services provided by Catholic church. Close hospitals, daycare ,schools. It will save parishioners lots of money and let the government take care of poorest.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • MommaM

      With the cost to run these programs the Catholic church in my area is closing down schools themselves due to lack of funds and in the process many teachers who have given years of service will be out on the street. From what I can tell, they aren't too worried about these women who have been underpaid for years and often bought supplies for their own classes.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • lisa

      The Catholic church provides services for millions of people every year regardless of their beliefs. I personally volunteer with Catholic Charities helping refugees relocate to our city. You are not aware of what you are saying and neither are all the people who are bashing the church. Obama is wrong to force this issue. And, since so many people are supporting planned parenthood they could just go there for their birth control right?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • sharky


      Not so simple there. Is your nearest hospital Catholic run? If you only have Catholics working or attending such places that will end up being a factor of discrimination. So if you use a Catholic hospital, but do not accept the Catholics angry about this mandate and say fine, no tax dollars or anything for you, you cannot use that hospital.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  18. charlie


    February 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • sharky

      Then the First Amendment would need to be amended. Separation would not exist anymore.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  19. stm60

    Why is the federal government telling private workforce what they must offer employees. That should be up to employers, employees and unions.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • B-Squared

      Unless that government is socialist...

      February 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Saboth

      Probably because we have these things called "employment laws" that prevent you from being worked 90 hours a week without overtime, or having 8 year olds work in the mines, etc. It says if you are hiring and paying people, you need to abide by the rules, whether you are Catholic, Baptist or Satanic. Just because someone works at a Catholic hospital doesn't mean they are Catholic, nor even if they ARE Catholic, doesn't mean he/she doesn't believe in birth control. Why should a few clergy decide for employees at a hospital?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • AlexK

      The problem is the republicans have pretty much gotten rid of most unions so workers have no way to fight for what they need. So what we have is an organization abusing its employees by refusing to offer one of the most crucial forms of preventative care on the planet because the pope tells them to do it.

      Obama is trying to give the power back to the workers who can decide for themselves if they want birth control and not let the pope decide for them because many are not even Catholic.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  20. Boohincus

    Maybe it's time we just outlawed the Catholic Church. They they would actually have something to squawk about.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • steelerguin

      Or, we could make everyone be Catholic and give you something to sqwuak about.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • jerry148

      Yeah, that's been tried before. Fortunately, we are still here, and we are 1 billion strong.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.