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)

    Obama way or no way

    February 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  2. Marcelo - Los Angeles


    February 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  3. james darnley

    it;s the goverments job to make it possible for everybody to have the same rights as everybody else.religion is a belief and if people don;t want to practice that belief that;s thier right to. so why is the cathloics trying to ram thier agenda down other people;s throats.thier the one;s trying to take away people;s rights !! the right to choose.if the church isn;t doing thier job that;s thier problem or maybe thier just afriad they will lose more money.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  4. J

    Why should any American group be forced to do anything?

    February 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Katie

      Exactly. Companies shouldn't be forced to comply to child labor laws, or have ethical work conditions. If they want to make their employees work 15 hours a day at less than minimum wage, the government can't force them to do otherwise!

      February 8, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  5. davey

    see ya in court soetoro

    February 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  6. HV19006

    First, I'd like to say that although I don't agree with the Catholic's church opinion on birth control, I agree with their right not to have to supply it. Forcing them to do so just opens the door down the road for other religions to get attacked. However, I'm a little confused about the issue of the morning after pill. If the morning after pill does not need a prescription, why is it even a concern, my son's over the counter allergy medication is not covered by insurance, why would the morning after pill be covered.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Jacob Johnson


      At first glance, the Church's justification seems sound. Leaving aside the fact that the belief is widely laughed at, irresponsibly harmful to the secular society at large and the believers while encouraging an increase in the number of believers, consider what the church is actually claiming: Because we believe something (for which there is no evidence–that birth control is somehow wrong) to be true, we should be exempt from the law. Should a group of people be exempt from a rational, beneficent law because of that group's beliefs?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Mikey

      Well for one thing, it isn't the Catholic Church, it is hospitals who hire innumerable NON-CATHOLICS to work for them. Or do you think all those nurses are all Catholic? This law forces the employer to extend the same standard of health care as other employers.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  7. Mike

    Organized religion: Holding back human progress for 4000 years.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Art

      Aborting fetuses....progress????

      February 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  8. Ed in Reno, NV

    The solution is simple. Keep the mandate in place. If Catholics don't want access to the birth control provided in their health care plan, don't get it. Just because your health care plan provides something does not mean they are forcing you to use it. Can we stop all the useless finger pointing and name calling now and get on with our lives?

    February 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  9. June

    I agree with AC Summers. Don't ask or buy it or have it perscribed for you. And what does this have to do with our economy and running our government on more serious matters. Keep religion out of government and in the church where it belongs.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  10. Katie

    We have to go against our religious beliefs and provide birth control coverage? The audacity! Next thing you know Obama will say we can't have human sacrifices for our sanctioned religious rituals! Or that we can't get high while performing religious ceremonies! Or that we're not allowed to have 10 wives and beat our children even though our holy book commands us to! Damn socialist.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Art

      You need help........or a brain.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Katie

      Art, you need a sense of humor. It's called sarcasm.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  11. MAFV

    I know of an inmate that had 4 children while locked up in prison. His wife is on public assistance and the children are without a father. Don't you think she should have waited until he got out, to take care of his own children...rather than me an African-American paying for her with my tax dollars. What does the Catholic church say about that....or can they honestly reply.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  12. yolanda

    It's always rewarding to read such thoughtful responses such as the one posted by ShawnHD. Obviously a deep thinking, caring individual..........

    February 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  13. 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 2:23 pm |
  14. AnnaMaria44

    Wondering how the President will address his declining popularity among Jewish voters (going by Gallup polls and Haaretz articles here)? Many Jewish Americans and Israelis definitely take notice of his rather "chilly" relationship with Netanyahu.

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

      Hey, I have a chilly – icy feeling for Netanyahu and I am an American and Jewish. There are a lot of us that feel that Israel made a number of wrong moves along the way to today. They have backed themselves into a corner and our President knows it and he can't help them out of that corner without their help. Think on that.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      Oh, Israel definitely has made many wrong moves. However, that brings us back to the findings, that Jewish support for Obama has been slowly eroding over the last 3 years, and I haven't heard his campaign address the issue.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  15. Anne

    If the Catholic church does its job, followers will not use the available birth control. Apparently the church doesn't have much faith in its people to make Catholic-minded decisions... it's like mom hiding the cookies because children can't help themselves. If I were Catholic I'd be offended.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  16. Jon413

    All these crazies angry at the whole contraception/church issue need to look at how much the Catholic Church earns from mostly Contributions from the Governments/Patrons etc... On 2001 the Catholic Church earned a whooping 422.098 billion
    (increased by 64 billion from previous fiscal year) and only spent 188 billion while hoarding the rest by spending on the stock market.

    Now they are talking about separating Church from State and I say let's do it, but while we are at it remove the tax exemption and all aid and make them pay their due. Since they don't want Government involved then they should receive nothing from the Government simple as that.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  17. cougarblu

    If a church conducts business in the secular world: amasses real estate, invests in wealth instruments, rents capital and labour from households, etc, then it IS a business. I don't are if you believe in some robed guy in the sky or little people in your flowerpots...if you want to engage with the real world, you have to play by real world rules.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • cougarblu


      February 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  18. Bebe

    The church (and they do like to cap it, don't they, as if theirs were the one and only) continually intrudes on public policy when they should stick to church policy. And they accept taxpayer money but still want to be able keep everything according to church policy. I do not believe that any church has the right to run a hospital or a university on a religious basis outside of chapel and perhaps counsel. Both of these types of organizations, among others, tend to have diverse populations, it would be nothing short of doctrinaire to impose a particular religious dogma on the medical care of everyone who is a patient, a student or an employee. On the other hand, where is the problem with conscience when no one is forced to use contraceptives? Why should anyone feel any pang of conscience for someone using contraceptives because you don't believe in it?
    People should also not assume that getting free contraceptives is a minor issue, as if any female desiring it can afford it. In fact there are now many who were formerly in the middle class and now poor. The very people who cannot afford to purchase their own birth control are most desperately in need of it because they can't afford a pregnancy. It is sad to see the discussion go to the church when the true focus should be on the health issues involved. Availability of contraceptives would do a great deal for the health of women and their children. As an industrialized nation, we have a shockingly high incidence of infant mortality and maternal death. We also have too many abortions. Greater access to contraceptives could improve all those numbers. http://barbaraspen.blogspot.com

    February 8, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  19. AC Summers

    If you don't want then don't ask for it, don't buy it, tell the doctor not to prescribe it. Get over it and move on...

    February 8, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  20. MP

    BRC, it appears that you are one of the few intelligent people making comments. I learned a long time ago that, for the most part, ignorant people are the ones that make the comments and I just let it go. You make a good argument and keep up the fight!

    February 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • BRC

      Thanks, glad something I'm saying makes sense.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:28 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.