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. ShawnDH

    Team Obama all the way. Don't these wacko government-forced birth, anti-choice fanatics want to reduce the number of abortions? Well guess what geniuses...birth control does that. And of course there is something really grotesque listening to right-wing hypocrites babbling about freedom while demanding the government force women to give birth against their will and dictate who can marry whom. These hypocrites shouldn't be indulged anymore. STFU.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • stohlat

      I'm sorry, who is forcing who to give birth? Where did personal responsibility go in this day and age?

      February 8, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  2. SgtSerge

    Ok here is an idea....... how about a hybrid tax system where you can allocate a portion of your taxes to specific purposes.

    For example, if I want my children to have access to these services, I tick a box, from there the information is fed in to the healthcard info to show what services are available or not. If there is not enough funding to suppport something, it is limited or does not exist. Problem soved really. We will never fix this by fighting over who is morally right or wrong.....

    February 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • BRC

      THough there are some things that need to be kept alive no matter what, I agree this would be a fantastic system and a giant leap towards America being a true democracy. It would aslo be really, REALLY hard to manage, but hopefully there is some branch of the governemnt working on it.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • SgtSerge

      I agree, really hard..... and I doubt anybody is working on it, if America tied the census data to taxes (everyone files a tax return even if you made nothing) the money saved from doing the census, paying people to analyse it, and put firth projects could maybe pay for a program like this.
      Until we have a true democracy we will be fighting with ourselves and no one will win. I am working on a plan like this in Canada (as there are far less people and it is easier to get through) because being from a socialist country it is vital for people to feel the money they pay in taxes is being spent on things that benifit them, even if it is only a percentage of the overall amount.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • SgtSerge

      And in Canada (like most places in the world these days) is very far apart in what people want for a country they live in. This is a real problem and a solution is not as hard as some people would like to make it out to be. It will not be easy, but it is sure not impossible.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • SgtSerge

      One last thing, it does not matter how many parties you have, they all play off of these social differences to secure a vote, they go after your morals. Far right, far left, center and everything in between. It is the way our tax dollars are spent that is the key to taking back democracy around the world. IMO

      February 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  3. tim

    "Planned Parenthood also released a survey on the HHS 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."

    This is irrelevant. So, all it takes to overturn Church teachings is to poll the membership, and a simple majority is all that's required?

    February 8, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • BRC

      Yep, welcome to living in a country that has freedom of religion, which also means you are free to ignore it if you choose.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • stohlat

      As my late departed mother said to me growing up, "just because everybody is jumping off a bridge does not mean you should, or make it right."

      February 8, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Patrick

      >This is irrelevant. So, all it takes to overturn Church teachings is to poll the membership, and a simple majority is all that's required?

      That would be a step up from the current system of just follow what the old white guy says based on his version of this translation from that edition. Church teachings are a joke. Most of the larger moral concepts were around before Christianity but they claim it their own. Marriage is a great example of this.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  4. jimmy

    Ok the problem the church has with this bill it’s because it uses or mandates the morning after pill to be cover which the church sees as abortion. If they would just take that out from the beginning they church would have shut up and we wouldn't be having this discussion. Catholic hospitals only have a problem with the morning after pill, that’s it. That’s what this problem is about. Take that out and shut up! and everyone its happy =0)

    February 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Rebecca

      That is not true. The Catholic church is against all birth control in every form. They preach abstinence only. No condoms, pills, IUDs, nothing. The morning-after pill is just their favorite way to demonize women.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Patrick

      The church is very confused. If ‘god’ wanted a child born, wouldn’t he have the power to make it happen regardless of “the pill” … silly children. It’s all part of his plan.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  5. lefty avenger

    Does anyone else find it peculiar that an Unborn Fetus is sacred and holy and when the child is born without monetary support the once sacred Fetus becomes a welfare food stamp bum and cheat not worthy of an education? How does this mysterious transformation take place?

    February 8, 2012 at 2:01 pm |

    • birth I suppose

      February 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • MTG

      Boy did you hit it on the head there!!

      February 8, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  6. Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
    Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Prayer reveals how stupid and pathetic you are to the world.
    Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Prayer makes you post really stupid shit.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer makes you smell like kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
    Prayer wastes time.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • ch

      what are you talking about there is scientific data to prove that it helps

      February 8, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • lefty avenger

      Oh! Ye of so little faith....

      February 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • namethename

      I was poor and was living from paycheck to paycheck.I did not want to wake up every morning.
      One day I prayed in my car and asked God give me my own business and a house(doesn't have to be a great house)
      3 month my parents all of sudden bought me a house and I started my own business where my products are sold even while I am sleeping all over the world.
      I told this to one on my former classmates who seems like where struggling. I wanted to help this way. She laughed it off, she says she "can't believe you can pray and a house will magically fall from the sky". These are her words.

      I don't know what is not real about house or $1000 a day I make every day.Real cash.

      Are some people so blind not to see what is in front of them ? I asked and was given to, it is up to you now.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Gary

      The author of the above comment is an IDIOT!

      February 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Ken

      Actually, the intial scientific studies (on whether prayer can effect medical outcomes) were both flawed and inaccurately reported - the studies have been revisited and the scientific data to date concludes is that prayer does not change medical outcomes.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • mannycl

      Another comment from wacko land.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • LawnSausage

      hahah thats awesome!

      February 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  7. Andrew

    So why not condoms on your health care policy then. Because helping men is not what feminists who cry discrimination care about. They just want to be able to hit the a button at any time, they want women to not have to deal AT ALL with their decisions plain and simple. Make condoms available, whats wrong with that.
    YOU are responsible for your own birth control, not the government.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • mdbill

      no argument andrew. "you" should be responsible for paying for your own bc. problem is that a lot of "yous" won't pay for it, get pregnant with an unwanted child, then "we" the people and government end up paying for a bigger mess.....

      February 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Andrew

      So we should save them from themselves?

      February 8, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • mdbill

      no, i'm afraid you are missing my point. we should save them from "ourselves". we the people will end up paying a lot more for the unwanted child then we will for bc to prevent the conception. that is unless you are of the tea party group that chants "let him die, let him die"....

      February 8, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Katie

      Andrew, condoms are already free at clinics. And lots of organizations hand them out for free, too. Plus, you don't need a prescription to get condoms, nor do you need to see a doctor every year while you're using them, hence, insurance really isn't in play there.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  8. mdbill

    BDM3. so you would rather pay for the health care of the child that results from the lack of contraceptives? is that what you're saying? because the contraceptives are a LOT cheaper in the long run. i hear quite a number of "conservatives" gripe about their government paying for BC or abortions.... but by golly, if you ask them to open up their wallets to pay for the unwanted children they just kind of disappear. why don't you worry more about the waste of human life our government causes in these stupid wars we keep interjecting ourselves in? somehow the trillions we spend on them seems to just escape your notice i bet....

    February 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • josh

      mdbill – I guessing you don't know the statistics on the explosion of the use of contraceptives and the amount of abortion and unplanned kids? In 1960 before the pill on 6% of kids were born out of wedlock. Now with the pill pushed to every girl past 12, over 40% of kids are born out of wedlock. 50% of all abortions happen due to birth control not working.

      Seems to me that instead of increasing the same failed policies we should try to implement something that actually has worked.....it's called abstinence.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  9. Bonnie

    As I see it the Catholic church does not want to tempt their flock by having the choice . I hope you are wrong when you offer the notion that ANY church will decide who the next President of the United States is . But, really do Catholics all want us none Catholics to be unable to have our choices because THEIR church says they can't have any choices. What is that ? stupidity love company ? What about Mormons ? Will Catholics allow this new age religion to supersede their religion at the polls ? Give the American public the chance to make a good choice for their country not their church and I believe we will get just the President we need. After all less government should mean the government stays out of our bedrooms and our hospitals and schools . I guess this is why I don't like church schools or hospitals , they are furthering their agenda at a big cost to our patriotic fiber .

    February 8, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  10. Andrew

    Somebody is taking my comments down because they're not liberal enough. Wiesels

    February 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  11. Pan3

    Right on Mr. President – Free us from the religious grasp that is choking the US!

    February 8, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  12. BReal

    William said:
    "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."

    Then NO coverage whatsoever for Viagra/Cialis/ED drugs because "it's a quality of life drug..."

    Can't have it both ways!!

    February 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Andrew

      Those plans from the church would not cover ed drugs. The same plans that cover birth control cover ed drugs. I work in health insurance. You point is made so much by so many, but it's just not true.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • bff

      Do you have to be a religion to restrict coverages for employees, or can any privately owned business that offers health care coverage for it's employees decide what it likes and what it doesn't like, claim "religious" reasons and remove it?

      February 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Andrew

      A policy is a policy, it's basically a contract, no policy is going to cover everything. I don't see any policies that cover condoms.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Andrew

      Don't really know, I work for Blue Cross, we cover birth control.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • BRC

      A friend of mine is a teacher in VA. their plan pays for X amount of medical coverage per year, then resets every year. IT pays for condoms, or whatever other medical expene you want, till it runs out. So they are out there.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Southern Gentleman

      Viagra is not covered by plan with Aetna. I don't work for any church.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  13. tripleseq

    Catholics have no issue with dictating what kind of health care they think others should and shouldn't be receiving; but its a two way street and they are whining in stereo-typical fashion. In any case, Catholicism is a dying religion in North America, and without the flow of immigrants into North America from South America and the Phillipines they would be even more marginalized.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • josh

      you don't know your bible very well. Nothing will destroy the Catholic Church. It has survived for 2000 years and it will survive till the end of time. If you are Christian and have a bible, Matt 16:16-18.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Thinkologoy

      You are wrong about the Catholic church dying in our country. Our church is having more people come back to our faith more and more everyday. We have a growing number of seminarians studying to be priest. Our international website of catholicscomehome.com is bringing many back that had left the church in their younger years. Yes we have had our problems with individual priests and do not hide that. The basic theology does not change in our church and that is what is attractive to people.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  14. Scholar

    The submerged issue here is a real medical issue: the staunch Catholic Church doctrine against the use of contraceptives includes a denial of the us of condoms. This introduces a very strong influence against safe practices and that is the medical issue in question.

    Because the Church says "just say no" and will not admit that its faithful are having relations outside of marriage, it is turning a blind eye to the medical issues. That can have tragic consequences for which there is ample evidence for those not blind to the facts of nature.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • jimmy

      Ahh... the church is ok with you using condoms.....
      They just don't want the morning after pill.
      Because they think life starts at conception, meaning from the moment the sperm hits the egg. Condoms stop the sperm.
      The after pill kills the egg. That’s their problem.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Thinkologoy

      I would like to know your definition of, Thou shall not commit adultery before I can anwer your statement.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  15. Andrew

    People are saying because a women has to pay for a pharmaceutical product she's discriminated against. Ha. Why is being made to play by certain rules of our economy discriminating against you. Nobody's saying they can't have it, but is everything that is beneficial for you supposed to be free or your rights are violated

    February 8, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Julnor

      There is no such thing as free birth control pills. There are only birth control pills that other people pay for.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • BRC

      I've answered you before, but here it is again. IT is not technically discrimination, but it would be an unjust and unfair practice. The government has signed into law a minimum standard of care to be provided by Health Care Insurance that is free to the recipient for all us Citizens. To say that a Church affiliated organization can opt out, "because they don't agree with it" denies the employees of that organization the rights of medical protection that have been signed into law. In effect, every other woman in America has BETTER protection than hte ones who workfor the organizations that "don't agree with it". that is unjust, and it is the restriction of personal rights by an outside body, which the Consttution defends against, and the government is menat to enforce that. Basically, it doesn't matter how the chuch feels, according to our founding laws, what matters is how the employees feel.

      If Contraceptives are really the issue, the churches are welcome to try to drum up support of the people to have letters sent to the government to have the law changed so that they aren't covered; but since it's pretty clear that the majority of US Citizens are FOR providing contraceptives, it's probably not going to happen, the Churches (all religions mind you), can get over it.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Andrew

      So BRC, are you saying that's discrimination against women that are made to buy this product without insurance, or just those with insurance but not covering birth control. I'm Canadian, our national health care does not cover contraceptives, it's never felt discriminating to anyone I know. You just trying to justify calling this discrimination. It's silly to come at that angle. Should gender changing surgery be covered too.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • BRC

      I said this WAS NOT descrimination. BUT, if it is mandated by law that ALL employers must provide Heatlh Care Insurance that includes cotnraceptives (my opinion has nothing to do with this, I didn't write the law), then ALL employers must provide such insurance. if 98% of women recieve the coverage because theyr employers follow the laws, and 2% don't because theri employer disagrees with contraceptives, that is an unjust and illegal restriction of their legally required medical care. What I think DOESN"T MATTER, what matters is what the law says, and that all Citizens recieve equal protection under that law. Some employers throwing a fit because they don't like it doesn't give them the right to deny their people coverage that EVERYONE else has access to. Does that make more sense?

      February 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  16. Yeahright

    They can't keep their "celibate" priests from sodomizing boys, and they claim to have the moral high ground.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Andrew

      How this comment stayed up is beyond me. Its like saying you all black people are criminal gangsters.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  17. David

    Although very influenced by religion the American government is secular in nature. The laws of the US take precedent over any religious doctrine. They always have.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  18. Julnor

    I was in an airport two weeks ago having a beer while waiting for my flight. I was talking with the guys next to me, each of whom owned a small business. I asked them, "Does Obama's mandate that health insurance companies provide free birth control make you worried about what he might do to your industry?" Both quickly answered, "Hell yes!"

    February 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Betty W

      Silly I have great insurance and my Birth Controle was never free. I had to pay the deductable on the cost just like any other medication. They just want it to be covered like any other health care medicine cost.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Betty W


      February 8, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  19. TonyB

    Catholic twits. You twits have more than enough issues to fix like child abuse. The catholic church is in the middle ages.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  20. TonyB

    idiot male catholics. You twits have more than enough issues to fix like child abuse. The catholic church is in the middle ages.

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

      You really don't care about child abuse getting fixed. If you did you would be more concerned about the 38 MILLLION cases in the general public than the maybe 4000 acts committed by priests. Certainly those 4000 are condemnable. But you only show your hatred of Catholicism rather than concern for child abuse with your post.

      February 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Katie

      gerald, it's not the number of child abuse cases that's the issue. Of that majority not committed by priests, there's a consensus among everyone (except the perp, obvi) that it's wrong, and that the pedophile should go to jail. But the Catholic church has tried to cover it up, pretend it never happened, and refuses to take action against these criminals. Tell one of the thousands of children who were abused by priests that their cases are insignificant.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:23 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.