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. Ed Sr of Dallas Tx

    Obama is wading in deep waters. If he wins the next general election we may as well give the United States to Russia and China because he will weaken the economy to the point we will be useless internationally.He is trying every shady deal he can to try and cover his stimulus failures. The man does not even deserve to be a Senator. He is a union and neighborhood organizer from Chicago and that is all he really is. What a shame our country has been denied TRUTH the past 3 years.

    February 8, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • J.W

      He will win the next election easily.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Jesus is dismayed by those lies you told. Obama's going to win easily and everyone knows it.

      February 9, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • acbytesla

      We heard this all before. LIke in 2008! You guys said the same over the top Bull-Crap, the world will come to an end if this evil, terrorist, radical muslim, who's "Baptist minister is a racist", non-citizen is elected President.

      We're still here!!!

      You know you can only cry wolf so many times and people stop taking you seriously.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  2. ex catholic worker

    Have you watched 19 and counting? Im sure they used the "rythm method" .... oooppppss! .... Maybe I should do that and come let the catholics support all my kids

    February 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  3. Bible Clown

    Of course, the fact that this is being used to drum up votes by the GOP has nothing to do with it. Timing – it's the secret of comedy.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • NYC-guy

      Our apologies. So you're saying we can't just put EVERYTHING off until after the election so it won't interfere with Obama's campaigning ?

      February 8, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      NYC, you could at least stop pretending this is about freedom of religion and not about Santorum wanting to be president.

      February 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  4. Crazyhorse

    Very timely and will no doubt work against Obama – not that he cares anyway.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • equality for everyone

      "The president's interest is in making sure that … all women here have access to the same preventive care services,”
      If you work for an asbestos company, should they be able to deny coverage of certain illnesses they don't want to agree with?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • TonyXL

      equality for everyone: yes, and the worker would be free to not work for that company.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • William

      Pregnancy isn't an illness.

      February 8, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  5. justathought

    Obamacare: If only it were available to his mother at the time of his conception.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Jim Jones

      Or yours....

      February 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Let's talk about your mom instead. I hear she's so fat other moms orbit around her in her gravitational pull. She's so fat she's got weight even if they DON'T find the Higgs boson.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  6. Dee

    This battle should be between the Catholic church and it's members. It is No Dam business of the govt. It is time for these people to stop wanting their govt. to fix things for them and tell the Vatican they WILL AND DO take contraception. What a bunch of baloney! These women have used birth control pills for years and are too stupid and cowardly to confront the Vatican. If they don't want to, then let them pay the higher price.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • acbytesla

      Wow Dee,

      This has NOTHING to do with the Catholic Church other than they want to run their businesses, not their Church by "special rules" that allow them to dictate what coverage is or isn't in their employee insurance policies. So that means a Non-Catholic Nurse who works in a hospital that isn't owned by the Diocese will get coverage that includes contraception. But if she works at a for profit hospital that has Catholic affiliation she won't get it.

      The government dictates all kinds of things including speed limits, rules against pollution of your water, air and food. The government has long regulated insurance companies and mandated specific items in basic health insurance coverage. Every single Insurance policy in America has specific requirements from both State and Federal agencies.

      Nobody is telling any Catholic that they have to practice birth control. Just that businesses' employee health insurance coverage must include it.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • jimtanker

      Not to mention that 98% of catholics in the US use birth control anyway so it's a non issue.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  7. tomben

    No one is stopping anyone from accessing birth control. The Catholic church is saying that is against their belief to provide it or to advocate it. Fine. Get your birth control somewhere else. Why force people to do what they don't believe in to save someone else a drive to the pharmacy? If it's about money... if you want it go buy it.... if you want your employer to pay for it and they don't offer that insurance plan... go work somewhere that it is covered. HUH... that was was not hard to solve!

    February 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • NYC-guy


      You're wasting your breath here ... surrounded by a bunch of mindless zombies who can't differentiate between having access to something (Gee, you had me fooled if you think it's hard to find contraceptives in any town in this country !) and forcing someone else, a.k.a. the Catholic Church, to pay for it.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • TonyXL

      Thank you, I'm glad SOMEBODY gets it.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  8. mike from iowa

    Jesus on why these grandstanding religious politicians are false and should not be followed:

    "Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

    February 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Franjii

      This is anti-semetic. Didn't Jesus pray in a synagogue?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  9. TonyXL

    The argument should not center around whether birth control is good or evil. Everyone is free to make that choice for themselves. But it is not fair to force a group to support something they believe is wrong. By the same token, the government could force you to put a cross on your lawn.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Or spend our taxes putting religious shrines up on government property.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • just my thoughts

      ...no one is "forcing a group" to do anything! They are only making sure everyone on the healthplan has the option available to them, the individuals themselves can then choose to get on contraceptives or not.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • TonyXL

      just my thoughts: umm, yes they are forcing

      February 8, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      "the government could force you to put a cross on your lawn." Are you a twelve-year-old girl or something? At least try to be sane. All hospitals have to obey the law, even if they have a god. Catholic hospitals have to sanitize, they have to hire qualified doctors and nurses, they have to pay their employees according to US standards, and they have to give their employees the same benefits as other hospitals. No one is forcing them to use birth control, or even to own a hospital. Cross on your lawn . . . Jesus H. Christ. You ought to be ashamed.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • TonyXL

      Bible Clown: ok, then crazy Rick Santorum becomes president and his administration declares that a bible is a right, and every employer must provide one. That would be permissible under your logic.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Alex Bettinger

      No, TonyXL, Santorum could NOT require employers to provide a bible, because that would plainly violate the Establishment Clause. See, the government cannot impose religion on people. That's basic First Amendment law. The government can, however, impose health and safety requirements on all EMPLOYERS–they can require a minimum wage, they can require that female or minority workers are not discriminated against, and so forth. If an employer has a religious belief that women should not be paid as much as men–TOUGH. He still has to pay them equally for equal work. You don't get to pick and choose which laws you as an employer will follow. It's no different with contraception.

      Honestly, allowing religiously affiliated business to disregard laws they don't like is not only anti-capitalist (giving special benefits to businesses that happen to be religiously affiliated, thus making it harder for businesses that are not), but it arguably is a violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause. The government is giving a special advantage, not just to religiously affiliated businesses, but even more specifically to CATHOLIC ones–in my book, that sounds like it's playing favorites. I hope a non-catholic employer brings an Establishment Clause suit against this exemption.

      February 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  10. Christian Scientist

    Would all the Catholics here support me in demanding that my Church be exempted from any costs for healthcare for any employees since we don't believe in using any form of medicine or hospitals?

    "At the core of Christian Science is the claim that God and God's creation are entirely good and spiritual. Christian Scientists interpret literally the Biblical teaching that God is both good and almighty, and follow this to what they believe is a logical conclusion: that any form of evil is God's opposite and so must necessarily be unreal. Hence sin, disease and death are illusions, which when seen through, can be overcome–not just conceptually but in actual experience, through healing. Healing comes about as the human experience approximates more closely to the underlying, perfect, spiritual reality. Christian Scientists hold that the reality of being and of all that God makes is spiritual, not material. They see this spiritual reality as the only reality and all else as illusion or "error." Christian Science acknowledges that all people seem to be experiencing a material existence, but holds that this material existence ultimately yields to a true, spiritual understanding of God and creation. They believe that this recognition of spiritual reality is how healing through prayer is possible.
    Prayer, from the Christian Science perspective, does not ask God to intervene but is rather a process of learning more of God's spiritual reality—"awakening mortal thought," by degrees, to spiritual truth. Christian Scientists show the effect of this spiritualization of thought in healing – physical, emotional, and otherwise. Health care of those for whom Christian Science is the preferred mode of treatment is typically not attempted through drugs, surgery, or other conventional methods but through Christian Science treatment, a specific form of prayer intended to spiritualize thought." – Wiki

    February 8, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Hypocrysy

      Christian Scientist? Hmmm, is that kinda like a black white boy? Seems like they would cancel each other out.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      No, being crazy and following a discredited cult doesn't give you any extra privileges. Nice try, but you aren't as good as Catholics to the GOP.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • GodPot

      I see, you explain it so well, the government can mandate that employers pay into an earned healthcare benefit program for employees as long as is doesn't get used for anything that is objectionable to their faith as long as the religion isn't considered by some to be a "discredited cult". So it's not really freedom of religion you want, but freedom of your religion...

      February 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  11. just my thoughts

    ...I wish the Bishops would have been this adament and persistent whenever the priests were found out to be molesting children!

    Just sayin'...

    February 8, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • just my thoughts

      *adamant (note to self: always proofread before posting)!

      February 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      the exclamation point should go inside the parenthesis. :-]

      February 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • just my thoughts

      Haha! Thanks Mike from Iowa!

      February 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Thanx Mike!

      February 8, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  12. carly

    I have several friends that work for Catholic organizations (Catholic charities, etc.) who are not catholic. Why should they be denied the same coverage offered at every other organization and corporation. Catholics have to stop spinning this as something it is not. It is just coverage for their employees no matter what religion they practice or don't.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Obvious

      Why would they want to work for Catholic representatives knowing they do not offer the full coverage that she wants. There are other businesses she could work for. She has a choice to work for them or not.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • J.W

      Is that reasonable for someone to have to quit their job and try to find a job somewhere else, and perhaps even have to move, just so they can get the same insurance coverage as everyone else?

      February 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  13. lilred

    Anyone her of separation of church and state? We are a secular nation. Anyone is free not to use birth control or not have an abortion.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
      -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802

      February 8, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • TonyXL

      And no one should be forced to pay for something they don't support, be it religion or abortion or birth control or Big Macs.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  14. vel

    If churches wish to run businesses that serve the entire public, they need to follow the same rules as everyone else. Shall we give exemptions to a church if it says "hey, the bible says slavery is okay, so we don't have to pay people"? Or shall we allow churches to female nurses less since the bible says that women are secondary to men? Funny how so many chuches run hospitals, I guess that good ol' magic healing Jesus Christ promised to every believer never works. oh and those who would say "god gave us medicine", gee, he sure must have hated everyone who missed his "revelation" of antibiotics, chemotherapy, c-limbs then.

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

      Reminds me of when I worked at a Christian college. It was raking in money hand over fist, and the founder lived in a mansion and drove a giant black caddy SUV. Everyone working there made minimum wage, even the counselors and people with college degrees. After a few years of seeing no raises while enrollment/profit went up about 20% per year, a few of us in my department asked our department manager why we couldn't get raises. So, she went to her superiors and asked that question. She was fired immediately after that, and her replacement came in and told us that since we are doing God's work, we shouldn't be concerned with how much money we made. True story.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • janelle

      and Saboth, what means did they use to force you to work there against your will?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  15. Conner

    Ok, if Catholics want to weigh in on polical ideas how about we get rid of churches tax-exempt status. Then by all means go ahead and raise a ruccus. Religious zealots are the last great hurdle this country needs to get past before any semblance of sanity and rationality can take hold in everyday life.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm |

    Tax the churches plain and simple.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  17. MashaSobaka

    I continue to become nauseated with the people who are whining about this infringing on their religious freedoms. NOWHERE does the law say that Catholicism has been outlawed. What Catholicism will NOT be permitted to do is force other people to follow their religious beliefs. If Catholics do not want to provide people with healthcare then they can stay the devil out of the medical professions. Birth control is used for a host of medical problems, pregnancy prevention being but one of them, and they cannot deny people this just because their Church decided that it goes against God. Catholics can suck it up and follow the law or else find employment elsewhere.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • vel

      Unfortunately for people who really are persecuted, the various churches claiming persecution since they can't force their religion on others really devalue the real suffering.

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

      Why do they have run hospitals as part of their church? Where does God say in the Bible that you must run a hospital and get rich? Let 'em sell out and make their money some other way, tax free.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Obvious

      You've just made my point. Find employment somewhere else if you don't agree with the Catholic beliefs. You are not forced to work Catholic businesses. There are many other businesses that offer birth control methods or other benefits that may suit your needs, apply for a position with them. Gov't needs to stop telling religions what they should believe in. The Gov't will allow murder in the form of abortion but not allow the Catholic church to practice their beliefs on contraceptives.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • janelle

      Thats right!! We've got to stop these Catholic from forcing people to work for them. It's about time these poor employees had the freedom to seek employment with someone willing to pay for their birth control and abortions!

      February 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  18. truthknower

    The most important message you’ll ever read: For us to get to go to heaven (and be made right with God), we must simply place our faith (belief/trust) in that Jesus Christ died for our sins (wrongs against God), was buried, and came back to life the third day after His crucifixion, thus making Jesus our Savior (the One Who paid for our sins) and Lord (equal to God because He was sinless). If we have true faith, we will let Christ be Lord of our life (thus telling us how we shall live) instead of us deciding how we’ll live without regards to God’s will as we used to live.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Conner

      The sooner you die, the better.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • vel

      then please volunteer to clearn land minds from south east asia if you find that death and your mythical afterlife is so important. It's funny how every time I suggest that, not one single Christian does it.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      "Jesus Christ died for our sins (wrongs against God)" I haven't committed these sins, so you want me to imagine I committed a crime to start with. Then I have to believe a guy came back from the dead? Not very likely, honey. Where's that guy today? Oh, dead again? No big surprise. Sorry, I find this unbelievable.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  19. NYC-guy

    I love it when all the 'clowns of tolerance' appear on the CNN boards.

    Let's hope you're as vocal about telling Catholics what you think of them as the election gets closer.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Don't make me bop you with the Clown Hammer©. There are at least three clowns running for president right now. Clown-Americans have made many fine contributions to this country.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  20. Sarbear

    The Catholic church actually sanctions birth control. It's called Natural Family Planning. And, no matter what anyone says, it is a form of birth control. Yes, they say it's a form of "fertility planning". But, it is mainly used by Catholics as a way to have intercourse for non-reproductive purposes without using contraceptives.

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

      That is true. It is also call the "rhythm method."

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

      Q: What do they call girls that use Natural Family Planning – 'the rythm method'?
      A: Mamma!

      So the 'insured' wants contraceptives (the 'real' kind), the 'celibate' male employer doesn't, and theoretically it's OK?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:21 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.