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. JournalGirl

    The Catholic Church and ALL churches should stay out of Health Care (especially Womens' HC and the Government. If they want to be involved and have a say, then let them start paying taxes like the rest of us.

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

      This is not the church getting into healthcare. This is a NEW policy that dictates that the church must provide insurance for something that it believes is morally wrong. My wife worked as a catholic school teacher for several years, and she had to pay for her birth control. That was our choice, as it was my wife's right to do so. The church just did't subsidize it, so we had to pay a whopping $40 a month. Relifious freedom in this country is worth at least that. Most people that are rational believe in seperation of church and state. Well it works both ways in some cases.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  2. alex chapman

    We are a Nation of 300 million people. Does everyone have to bow to the wishes of the many religious groups that exist ? Why not repeal the Bigamy Laws to appease the Mormons ? Doesn't anybody know the meaning of giving a little to get along ? Are we going to turn into a Nation of Shiites & Sunnis ?

    February 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  3. OMG

    'lack of self control' ~ 'close your legs' ... spoken like true morons who don't live in the real world and only want to butt in where they havent been asked to, someone else's bedroom

    folks get a life...just cuz you don't have a satisfying love life doesn't mean everyone else should be relegated to the same fate. and the catholic church with all of it's scandals are the LAST folks who should be issuing any sort of 'moral' argument. clean your own dang house first before telling others to clean theirs.

    bc pills are for more than just preventing pregnancies, they can be used to regulate irregular cycles and even out hormones just to name a few and those *should* be covered. better to prevent the pregnancy from occuring in the first place than have to have it 'fixed' later on.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  4. kenneth

    Tom, that is true, never thought about it that way!!!

    February 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  5. Annie

    BTW Santorum has 8 kids.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  6. Corey

    The Freedom comes from the WOMEN choosing to use contraceptive or not use contraceptive. Why can't you religious nuts get that. Yet you are always talking about the government taking away freedoms. Well aren't you calling the kettle black. If you only treated and employed catholics and didn't receive government money then I say do what ever floats your boat. But considering none of those are true it's time to play by the same rules as everyone else. Because fighting this religious fight only opens the door for Muslims to impose their crazy asss philosophies also. It's a door that swings both ways. Think about that for a minute religious nuts. How would you feel if this was a muslim group trying to do this. Well that's how the rest of us feel when you try to do the same type of things "Impose your ideology on people who don't agree". Some might say well the left is trying to impose it's ideology on you. Are we forcing people to take contraceptives NO, are we forcing people to have abortions NO. We are just trying to give people FREE WILL. You know like your god gave you.

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

      The whole point of religion is to control people. The basic concept behind all religions is that we're just immoral beasts who can't think for ourselves and are only interested in self-pleasure. We NEED religion to be told how to behave in a civil manner. Allowing people to choose anything for themselves would break the whole system down. I was even told in Catholic school that I shouldn't read the Bible, b/c i might interpret it wrong. I need the Pope to tell me what the Bible says.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Carl

      Getting free contraceptives is not a right. A religious organization being able to conduct itself according to its beliefs is. It is that simple, and it is not nuts.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Corey

      Carl does that mean Muslims can conduct Sharia Law you know because that is their belief? Is it ok for Mormons to have multiple wives you know because that is their belief? And yes Carl it is Nuts the only reason you don't see it is because you are the d**k in the middle.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Carl

      Unlike those other things, this is established policy. Also, they key to religious freedom in this country is "within reason". I will conceed that "within reason" changes over time, but comparing not subsidizing contraception completely stripping women of their rights is asinine.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Patrick

      Sorry Carl but a hospital is not a church and healthcare does not infringe on anything jebus said. A hospital is a business and as such has to follow the laws like everyone else. I like your response about shira law, classic hypocrisy. Thank you for being a stereotype.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  7. Josh

    The root issue is that the Catholic Church is worried that Catholic Women who work for the church, will start to demand contraceptives and with that, the Catholic Church will have to pay for them.

    Well, that is an internal failure of the Catholic Church, not a failure with the Obama administration. Its a total failure of the Catholic Church to have taught these Catholic Women that the use of contraceptives is WRONG, by church doctrine. Blaming "Obama care" is simply the Catholic Church refusing to accept its own failures and trying to divert attention from itself.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  8. kenneth

    I trully wish that these same Bishops would have been so concerned about preist molestation of young boys. Shame on you!!!!

    February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  9. Katie

    Impose his secular views? Ummm, last time I checked, we were a secular government, that was REQUIRED to separate church and state. That's like saying "How dare Obama make me cover antibiotics when my religion doesn't believe in them! Open heart surgery? You're on your own!" Really now?

    February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Conservatives really do not understand the concept of a precedence!

      February 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  10. Hooligan

    As much as I think ALL religion is a crock and that common sense should trump religious dogma, to force people who don't want to use the service is just as wrong as the church trying to deny it to everyone regardless of their faith.

    Let the people CHOOSE what is right for them.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Its not forcing people to take the pills, just to make it available for those who want it

      February 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Hooligan

      yes but according to the Catholic faith there IS no other option.. You want other options? Leave the church.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • casper

      The option should still be there. If they are comfortable with their religion, they still don't have to use it. It's their choice. Also, most Catholic schools and hospitals get $$$ from gov't and tax breaks so should follow policy if they still expect those benefits.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Corey

      That is what they are trying to do. It's up to the individual to choose. By allowing the church to dictate what they cover is taking away that choice.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Tomk

      I don't see how health insurance paying for birth control pills is forcing anyone, Catholic or not, to use them. Network news last night said 98 percent of Catholics use them, anyway.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  11. CareJack

    This is what happens in all of the male dominated religions, there is none that is not. Terrorist male religious leaders(islamist mullahs, christian bishops) suppressing the freedom of women.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Katie

      If men were the ones who got pregnant, they'd make contraception free and available at every corner store.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  12. Tom

    Why do they care? The boys they molest can't get pregnant anyway.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • zzzzzz

      and they free Viagra to do it... It is covered

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

      That is why Pope and Bishops are encouraging them to go after boys. When they molest a lot of boys, the bishops transfer them to a new place to molest more and talk to politicians and parish members to get case dropped.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  13. DeeNYC

    hypocrites, if all these catholics aren't taking birth control they must be having abortions. otherwise every catholic woman would be like the duggars and the catholic women would be nothing more than an animal for breeding. For those who don't know the duggars have over 20 children.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Hooligan

      have you seen most Catholic families? There are well over 3 in almost every household.

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

      Have you ever heard of Natural Family Planning? Obviously not. That is taught by the Catholic Church. Look it up you may learn something.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • J.W

      Actually Hooligan that is not true as much anymore.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  14. Catholic

    The Catholic church teaches that Catholics should not use contraceptives of any kind. It is the 5th Commandment, Thou shall not kill. Catholics are taught God's values. Catholics take that and use it in a way that helps them get through every day life. If some Catholics think that using contraception is OK they are the ones who have to answer to God. EVERYONE is human, Catholic or not. Yes, I am Catholic, married and DO NOT use contraceptives.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • DAT67

      I've never understood how, if conception never occurs, anyone can think there is any "killing" involved???

      February 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Josh

      "Catholic", if that was really true, then there would be no problem. These Catholic Women would not want to ever use any contraceptives, and with that, the Catholic Church would never have to pay for them.

      The real problem is that most Catholic women do indeed use contraceptives. However, blaming Obama for that, is ridiculous.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • zzzzzz

      They may have to answer to God, but not the Church or their doctor, last time I checked .

      February 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • J.W

      What happens to the cells that do not fertilize the egg? They will die. Catholics should then be in favor of artificial insemination in which every sperm is utilized

      February 8, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  15. jrod

    “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.”

    But Rick Santorum attempting to impose his beliefs on us is A-OK, right? This guy is such a tool

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

      You don't like our country then get out. No one forced you to come here. This administration is trying to give the FREEDOM to the individual to make this decision for them selves and not allow a organization to dictate what people can and can't do.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  16. Annie

    William, almost if not every drug used today carries riskier side effects than what ts actually being treated. Next time you wish to take aleve or tylenol read the label carefully. ALSO No one is forcing people to start using contraception, if you want to have 19,20,21+ kids go ahead, TLC is always looking for the new "Duggars", BUT for those who wish to be on birth control for what ever reason it might be, should be covered by the same insurance they pay so much for every month.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  17. Mary

    What about all the other uses of birth control pills? Can women get it covered if it is not for contraception?

    February 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  18. Sy2502

    Not sure what business schools have to dispense emergency contraception, but hospitals? Heck yeah! You want to be a hospital, do what hospitals do or close down! I remember there were some cases some time ago of Muslim taxi drivers who refused to give rides to customers carrying alcohol with them, or Muslims working at supermarkets who refused to shelf alcohol. Hey, if you can't do your job because of your religious beliefs, find another job.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  19. kenneth

    Why is it that Old men always want to controll what freedom a woman should have . If the woman works directly for the Catholic church, then I understand, but a hospital is a place of business that gets federal dollars to provide care for All people, therefore they should provide access for all employees. The true freedom is allowing the employee to choose. Not telling the employee what they cannot have. Does Taliban come to mind!!!!

    February 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  20. CD

    I will be attending Georgetown Law school next fall. I am not a Catholic. I want my student health insurance to cover my birth control. I'm sure that most of the other 8,000 female students at Georgetown agree.

    This isn't about churches "being stripped of religious liberty". (As many have pointed out, churches are exempt). It's about students like me who should not be denied birth control coverage because of an archaic teaching that a vast majority of the polity (including Catholics) have abandoned.

    98% of American women will use contraceptives in their lifetime. It is mainstream. To act as if we are sticking a knife in the heart of religion by mandating that Georgetown University cover birth control for students like me...please.

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

      You're using logic. Republicans and the religious right do not understand logic. They only understand fear and hate.

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

      Use your brain for once and don't go to a university that does not give you what you want. You have to choice of going to Georgetown or don't you? The government is not forcing you to go there. What is next? Do you want to mandate free college education too? If you are the example of the future lawyers of this country, I am scared to see where we will end up during litigation in a court of law.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • mp

      When a government tells a religious organization what the can or can not do, it is about infringing on religious freedom. If you want birth control go to planned parenthood.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:02 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.