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. J.R.

    It's very simple math, people. You add more people to the population, then the problems facing us become greater. Joblessness, poverty, disease, you name it. These right-wing, nut-jobs who claim to be Christian only want to over-populate the Earth which in turn, will use up natural resources faster. If anything, we should be pushing contraception much more firmly then we already are. We need more responsible procreation but in much smaller number than what we're seeing.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Your missing one part of the religious equation: more uneducated suffering people = more money in their collection plates

      February 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Livingston

      I agree. Look at Haiti.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  2. longtooth

    Aha! Another hotbutton issue to distract voters from what really matters! Never mind obscene wealth! Never mind ethics violations and serial infidelity! Never mind being a lobbyist who was kicked out of his own senate seat! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! I am the Great Wizard of Oz!

    February 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Patrick

      There is plenty coverage for all of that also crackpot.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  3. heresy

    to make it available to those who need it, i am all for. forcing people to use it i am not. so if they are just making sure the option is available then good job

    February 8, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • dfg

      That's all this is...ensuring it's available to those who CHOOSE to use it. If a church is worried about its employees CHOOSING to use birth control, then its not very effective at controlling their lives...er, I mean, convincing them to behave like sheep...um, I mean...

      February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  4. From my bed

    May I also point out: birth control is not taken by every woman because they are harlots. I take it because I have medical issues. Without my medication, I wouldn't be able to function. But that doesn't matter does it? The catholics just want me to be in bed, not have a job or chance out there. They'd rather me be in bed waiting for my husband to come home with advil.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  5. notfromtheisland

    The catholic universities & hospitals are an extention of the their churches. Therefore, should also be exempt. This is a religious freedom issue and will be overturn easily. Obama is stupid to pick this fight.

    That said, hey Catholics you wanted change you can believe in? Majority of you voted for Obama who is pro abortion, pro-everything that goes against your so called ideals and teachings. So why the outrage now?

    Also remember Biden saying he will "shove his rosary beads down anyone's throat" who tries to impose their will on his religion? Shouldn't Secret Service arrest him for threateing the President?

    February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • BRC

      They are not extensions, they are affiliates, big difference. If they took no Government funding, and were entirely privately staffed by church members, they could be extensions and would probably be exempt, but that's not the case here. And here's the really fun part, if the Government really REALLY wanted to, they could make the CHURCHES themselves support health care too, because religious freedom applies to PEOPLE not organizations.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Patrick

      @ notfromtheisland

      You just got owned sir.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • dfg

      You're silly. Requiring that it be made AVAILABLE to people isn't infringing on religious rights, and no one is forcing anyone to USE birth control. I mean, if you walk into a bookstore and it has a Koran on the shelf, are you automatically converted to a Muslim? Silly person.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Church of Suicidal

      Let's clarify something. Pro-choice =/= pro-abortion. For that matter, most so-called "pro-lifers" should really be called "pro-birthers" since they seem to lose all interest once the baby is out of the mother.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  6. christina

    How is this bad? They're hospitals not churches if they want all the funding and government support that public hospitals get they should provide all the services.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  7. us1776

    The is completely a matter of personal choice.

    All women should have complete access to all services for women available under healthcare plans.

    Catholic women can make whatever choice they want from those services.


    February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Patrick

      100% correct.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  8. Max Powers

    Religious people who don't believe in war have to pay taxes that support war. Therefore, religious people who don't believe in contraception have to pay to give contraception. It's part of being in a society. If you don't like it, goodbye.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  9. Skyler

    Silly Catholics. Upset that the contraception access policy goes against the church's teaching, when over 95% of Catholic women go against the church's teaching.

    But I do think the administration should find a way to make free contraceptive access possible to Catholic women without stepping on their doctrine, however medieval it is.

    By the way, did you know Mitt Romney is on record for supporting this policy in the Romneycare package he installed as MA govenor? Now he says he is against it. What a tool.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  10. Max Powers

    Religious people who don't believe in war have to pay taxes that support war. Therefore, religious people who don't believe in contraception have to pay to give contraception. It's part of being in a society. If you don't like it, leave.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  11. Ichiban

    They begat and begat and begat and...

    February 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Max Powers

      Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is good...

      February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Church of Suicidal

      "I'm sorry. It's medical experiments for the lot of you."

      February 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  12. Reality

    Dear Mr. Obama,

    Still waiting for your yes or no on this:

    For your next news conference–


    To all overse-xed h-o-mo-sapiens:

    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-
    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'"

    Obviously, Planned Parenthood, parents and educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Alert Sooner

      Stop picking up data from Wikipedia!

      February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Reality

      Please read more thoroughly next time. i.e. Guttmacher Inst-itute, CDC and Consumer Report references so cited.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  13. clsjey

    If a religion-based employer of non religion member workers, was morally opposed to blood transfusions and vaccines (i.e. Jehovah's Witnesses), should they be allowed to exclude these services from the medical insurance coverage that they are required to provide?

    February 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • CareJack

      They should be. But they won't be since it is a smaller fanatic religious group. You need lot of fanatic members to get it implemented.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  14. DWALSH

    Separation of Church and state should work both ways!!!!!!!

    February 8, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Patrick

      I agree. But that is irrelevant to the topic at hand. This isn’t a separation issue.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  15. CareJack

    I don't listen to anybody about what I do in my bedroom. I heard the letter from the bishop here reading last Sunday. It is more like christian Taliban speaking. It is becoming like these Bishops and Pope wanted us to do their Taliban style fight. They won't get me for that.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • GodIsTheWay

      Then you are not a christian. Enjoy the anti-christ's side of the field. I'll take God's side.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • CareJack

      When you got the right to define who is christian ? I am not a christian terrorist.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • J.W

      Not all Christians are Catholic by the way, and if they are not Catholic they do not have to follow Catholic doctrines.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  16. smeeker

    Pretty smart if you ask me. Obama wants to increase access to birth control so there won't be a reason for 99% of abortions. Good thinking.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • czerendipity


      February 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • FLIndependent

      It's refreshing to know that there are still some people out there smart enough to see this and not so blinded by their "religious" faith. More birth contorl, less abortions and less starving children!! Why does the Catholic Church have to be so stubborn about this – they need to come into the 21st Century!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  17. Darthlawsuit

    Worst Idea ever... Make others pay for your se><ual habits

    February 8, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Patrick

      I said the same thing when we started prosecuting all those pedos from the church.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  18. William

    I see no reason birth control should be required to be covered. Whatever happened to health insurance being for preventative and major issues. Birth control is a quality of life drug and shouldn't be required to be covered. If it isn't treating an illness it shouldn't be mandatory that they cover it. Although some doctors do use it as part of treatment, it often carries riskier side effects than what you want to treat.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Nikki

      spoken like a person who could never become pregnant!

      February 8, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Mark

      Birth control is far more than simply a quality of life issue. Numerous studies have shown that having birth control allows women to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to space out their pregnancies. Both of these outcomes dramatically improve women's health. The small cost of providing birth control is dramatically offset by the savings in women's health care.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Mary

      Birth control pills are used for many other things besides just birth control.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Patrick

      >I see no reason birth control should be required to be covered. Whatever happened to health insurance being for preventative and major issues

      BC is preventative genius.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Phillip

      "Whatever happened to health insurance being for preventative and major issues."

      You don't consider birth control "preventative"??? I'm surprised a religious organization even offers health insurance anyway. If you get sick or pregnant, it must be your respective god's will anyway right?

      February 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • VoiceofReason

      By definition it is preventative care. Quality of life, what kind of whack job are you? Having a period has never improved any woman's quality of life, I assure you.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • schwarzey

      Americans need health insurance for basic health care, preventative measures and emergency services– not open heart surgery.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Max Powers

      Birth control is all about prevention. And it saves tons of money...every child that is not born doesn't strain the healthcare system. Babies cost way more than contraception.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • christina

      That's the thing most insurance policies charge up the nose for preventive care and contrceptives. To fix that the government wants to step in with the insurance companies but oh no we cant have that either! So make it affordable for women to pay on there own or provide it themselves and support facilities that provide them which is better?

      February 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • BadgerBadger

      Do some research before you post. The birth control pill IS required for other illnesses, mine is PCOS, a.k.a polycystic ovarian syndrome. I have to take the pill in order to have a period, because if I didn't, I would get cancer from the build up of lining in my uterus. I can't take any other medication for this, and it's 100 dollars a month! People like you are saying this medication shouldn't be covered. Do you people want me to get cancer? Yes, the side effects are risky, but not as risky as cancer!!!

      Also, your name being William, it would seem likely that you are a man. As such, you have no business even commenting about the birth control pill, as you would never need to take it. Every man and religious organization, keep your noses out of MY uterus!!

      February 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • czerendipity

      Birth control IS a preventative medication.....

      February 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  19. Paul

    News flash; nobody is forcing anyone to use contraception. For those that want it, it's there under this reform. Get a grip people. Nobody is forcing anyone to actually use contraception. What's wrong with people?

    February 8, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Daddy2010

      News flash: Not everyone wants to financially pay for your lack of self control.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • *facepalm*

      @Daddy, I don't want to pay for nuclear weapons. Where do I opt out? I guess the RCC is fine with nukes – they just are concerned with what's going on behind closed doors.

      Oh, and do you want to pay for all of the unwanted kids that end up in the foster care system? Or the mothers that need to go on welfare? 'cause that's a lot more expensive.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Sean S

      No, but they are forcing Catholic sponsored organizations to purchase contraception products which are explicitly against their moral beliefs.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Killdear

      Daddy...where did you get the idea that we are going to pay for it? It comes with the health insurance policy now....If you don't want health insurance that's up to you...but to turn your argument against you....why would I want to pay for your lack of it when you get sick?

      February 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Jeff

      I agree with you Paul. No one is forcing you to take anything. Why is this even an issue. Conservatives are all about people making their own choice, unless it involves religion, birth control or abortion.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Patrick

      Killerdear addressed the cost issue. I will address the lack of control issue. Where do you get this idea? Are you suggesting that everyone who has s.ex is out of control? Are Married couples not allowed to have s.ex? If you are married are you not allowed to use BC? .. short answer…you’re an idiot.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  20. Prayer changes things

    Prayer has brought us to today
    And prayer will see us through

    February 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Nope

      ~~~~The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.~~~~~

      February 8, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Daddy2010

      @Nope: People waste time on TV, video games, angry birds, etc. Yet I don't see you railing against those.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Nope

      "Yet I don't see you railing against those."

      Yo moron, that's not what this idiot is posting about now is it? Duh!

      February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • *facepalm*


      No one is knocking on my dooring telling me how I'm going to suffer for eternity if I don't play video games.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:48 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.