Political Animal


February 15, 2012 9:14 AM Split Among Catholics on Contraception Mandate Emerges More Clearly

By Ed Kilgore

In the ongoing saga of the Obama administration’s efforts to implement a mandate for employer-sponsored insurance coverage of contraception services, the secular-socialists-versus-people-of-faith framing conservatives have sought to impose has been radically undermined by the willingness of people operating Catholic hospitals, colleges and charities—the faith-based social services supposedly most threatened by the mandate—to show support for the president’s efforts to accommodate them without abandoning his basic position.

Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association deservedly got the most attention for immediately going out on a limb to welcome the president’s modified mandate proposal (which provided that insurers themselves would bear the cost of contraception services for employees of religiously-affiliated institutions that objected to paying for the coverage), even as the Catholic Bishops and a host of Republican politicians were still bellowing their outrage at a supposed “war on religion.” It certainly drew notice that her statement of support came out at almost precisely the same time as that of the president of Planned Parenthood, a nice symbol of unexpected convergence that couldn’t have looked much better for the White House.

But as Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times reports, Keehan is not alone:

The contrast in responses from Catholic organizations has been more a matter of tone than content. They are all in agreement that certain issues still need to be worked out, like what to do about Catholic institutions that are “self-insured,” meaning that they act as both the insurer and the employer.
Yet some struck an optimistic tone, greeting the White House’s announcement as a good-faith step forward. Those groups included the Catholic Health Association, which represents 600 hospitals and 1,400 health care facilities, plus Catholic Charities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. They said that details like what to do about “self-insurance” could be worked out.
The Rev. Gregory Lucey, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, which represents 28 institutions, said: “I really am appreciative of what the president did last Friday. I’m optimistic and hopeful, and I feel the religious liberty issue is addressed.”

Meanwhile, polling of lay Catholics on the subject is in a bit of disarray given the slow spread of information about the mandate as modified and the very different wording deployed by different pollsters. But it is very clear that Catholic opinion isn’t significantly different from that of the rest of the population, despite the much-publicized thundering of the Bishops. The latest major survey, by CBS/NYT, showed 61% of Americans, and of Catholics specifically, broadly supporting a contraception mandate. If such numbers are even remotely accurate, the effort to mobilize Catholics against Obama on this issue has simply failed.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on February 15, 2012 9:26 AM:

    Yes, but let's remember the immortal words of the corporate cum slut called Brian Williams: "Obama really blew it on this one". Ok cum slut now go collect your $250,000 per week from GE.

  • T2 on February 15, 2012 9:29 AM:

    " has simply failed" yeah, in the Real World. But in the world of Cable TV we apparently have a huge Obama Fail on our hands...something that could take the entire Catholic vote away from him in the fall - a huge blunder. Thankfully, there is a Real World.

  • c u n d gulag on February 15, 2012 9:31 AM:

    The Catholics who won't vote for Obama over this birth control issue, are pretty much the same ones who wouldn't have voted for him before he "compromised" on his birth control stance.

    98% of American Catholic women admit to using birth control at some point in their lives.

    And the 2% who didn't, like the mothers of Rick Santorum, Bill Donohue, Paul Ryan, and the mothers of the plethora of alter-boy schtupping, penis-packing, parish priests, wish that they had access and opportunity to low cost birth control.

    This is the 21st Century - the "Electron Age."

    The "Rubber Age" ended a long time ago.

    I know it's 2012 AD, but it's also year 62 PTP (Post "The Pill," and somewhere near year 40 IUD.

  • Kathryn on February 15, 2012 9:32 AM:

    You'd never know of the approval by many Catholic institutions if all you read was the Washington Post. Letters to the editor featuring 6 letters, 4 opposed to the policy, 2 pro.

  • Ron Byers on February 15, 2012 9:34 AM:

    Ed, don't let theAmericanist see your post. He has been bellowing from the rooftops that this has been a major turning point. More importantly don't let EJ Dionne, Chris Matthews, Brian Williams and the rest of the compliant alterboys see your post. They would all be confused by the facts. Their heads might explode.

  • stevio on February 15, 2012 9:38 AM:

    If such numbers are even remotely accurate, the effort to mobilize Catholics against Obama on this issue has simply failed.

    Substitute anything for "mobilize Catholics" in the above sentence and you'll pretty much get the end result for what the GOP has been trying to do to Obama. Their problems is always going to be that whatever they try to do to mobilize anyone or thing against him is based on BS...

    Thank God we have a fair and balanced MSM (HA!)

  • MattF on February 15, 2012 9:40 AM:

    There's the sheep (us), the shepherds (those that run actual institutions in contact with reality), and the ruling class (the bishops). Everyone has to choose-- which side are you on?

  • Danny on February 15, 2012 9:43 AM:

    And the great untold story here is that other big "special interest group" impacted by the mandate: women. In a perfect world you'd expect someone to poll what this little episode did to the President's approval among women. I'd say this is a clear win for the President.

  • Bob on February 15, 2012 9:43 AM:

    With respect to Ed's observation that: "Catholic opinion isnít significantly different from that of the rest of the population," here's my anecdotal observation. As a kid, I remember the families at Mass: 5,7,9,14 kids in the pews. Go to church now (well, I haven't been in a few years, but still) and you'll see families with 2,3,4 kids. Parents haven't gotten more skilled at using the rhythm method, so something else must be at work here.

  • T2 on February 15, 2012 9:48 AM:

    basically, in 2012, putting forth a program to limit access to birth control will be a political loser. GOP-Loser. Obama-winner.

  • DAY on February 15, 2012 9:48 AM:

    Dogma should stay safely beneath the steeple; when it ventures into the Real World it does battle with Capitalism, and the outcome is never in doubt.

    Insurance is a business! And it knows that the cost of birth control pales beside the cost of maternity.
    Ditto diet plans vs diabetes, heart pills vs heart transplants- it is why some "insurance plans" now pay for gym memberships.

  • berttheclock on February 15, 2012 10:01 AM:

    @DAY, "gym memberships"

    Sorry to see you posted that as I switched my Medicare Supplemental plan in December only to be sent a free gym card from my former insurer after January 1st. They had failed to inform me free workouts would be included in the 2012 coverage. Had I known, I would not have switched and can not switch back until this fall. I had switched because the new provider was supposed to cover chiropractic care. However, I have discovered Medicare rules are so strict, no chiropractor will accept this extremely small coverage. I would end up paying the majority anyway.

  • schtick on February 15, 2012 10:27 AM:

    Religions should not be tax-exempt. They are businesses just like any other business. They rake in the money, live in mansions, drive town cars or have limos and tell their flock they want 10% of their weekly take home. The only thing that shouldn't be taxed is the actual church and nothing more. That would eliminate most of this religious crap being dictated as government law and shoved down everyone's throat in the name of religious freedom.

  • Diane Rodriguez on February 15, 2012 10:39 AM:

    Sister Keehan further bolsters the idea that women are the moral compasses of a society. Too bad men can't shut up long enough to listen. I think that the furor, mostly from men, is a comment on their fear of losing virility and dominance. First minorities and now women. Jeez, a guy, especially a white guy can't get a break.

  • JoanneinDenver on February 15, 2012 10:39 AM:

    I think the "culture wars" are over, at least on the birth control battle front.
    Today, talk radio in Denver is full of talk of "welfare queens" and how drug testing should be mandatory. (I expect to hear that "birth control" should also be mandatory, thus causing a momentary glitch in the otherwise smooth operating right wing propaganda machine!)

    I continued to be impressed by the ability of the state republican legislatures to be prepared, always, to bring up a new strategy to attack democratic policies and the democrats to be perpetually flatfooted, surprised, and unprepared. Right now, legislation mandating the drug testings of welfare recipients has been introduced in Colorado. It mirrors the legislation in Florida and Kansas. While the legislation may not be passed or may not survive a court challenge, it fires up the base and targets the "lazy poor." Echo of Reagan.

    A technical observation of the birth control issue: the bishops talk about "abortion pills" and that is confusing. It is the hook that almost "got" Obamacare derailed in the House as federal funding can not be used for abortions. Currently, medical terminology defines pregnancy as starting, not
    at fertilization, but at implantation in the uterus. The 10-14 days between fertilization and implantation is a legal and medical limbo. It is precisely this interval for which the so-called Plan B or Morning After Pill is designed. The pill may prevent ovulation, more likely it prevents implantation. The bishops define pregnancy as beginning at fertilization, so anything that interferes with the zygote prior to implantation is considered an early abortion.

    When the bishops talk about "abortion pills," this is what they are talking about.
    There is no coverage mandated for the pills that are taken well after an pregnancy has been established and are real "abortion pills." The bishops use of words confuses the medical issue.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 15, 2012 10:54 AM:

    Ditto Danny on February 15, 2012 9:43 AM

    And may god have mercy on the souls of the GOP if the Sweater-Vested One manages to somehow be the Republican nominee to go up against Obama come November...

    And I'd also like to venture a guess that most modern men who are in their right minds are all for BC too... I've never dated a guy who was particularly thrilled about the likelihood of a "happy accident"... Actually I dated one, and that one little aspect scared me away from him quick-fast in a hot hurry!

  • cmdicely on February 15, 2012 11:09 AM:

    Sister Keehan further bolsters the idea that women are the moral compasses of a society.

    For me, Sister Keehan further bolsters the notion that people of deep religious conviction that are actively involved in working in a particular field are often better positioned to apply moral principles to the facts present in that field than people who have similar conviction but no particular expertise in the field.

  • bdop4 on February 15, 2012 11:17 AM:

    @ Bob: I've heard a lot of Catholics, both on the radio and in print, make this observation. Very few are getting fooled on this one.

    Sister Keehan and Rev. Lucey aside, the RCC has jumped the shark on this one and ended in the same place as The Komen Foundation. I have a feeling that repairing the damage will take quite a while.

    And the GOP? This is just one of many sharks they have jumped. We will see how this bodes for them in November.

  • Anonymous on February 15, 2012 11:28 AM:

    Diane Rodriguez and Joanne in Denver both nail it.

    The lack of attention to what the people actually affected by this, women, really think is what leads the punditry and media to miss the point so strikingly. They only listen to each other, think their views mirror what "America" thinks and routinely miss the point. Whoever pegged it as a rerun of Terry Schiavo was also right on target, and it has had the same consequence for the GOP and the Bishops.

  • CJ on February 15, 2012 11:32 AM:

    Ahhh, the Catholic Bishops.

    Baptized and raised Catholic, I left the Catholic church because of such foolishness. I didn't want to contribute another dime to its morally-corrupt hierarchy.

    Progressive Catholics have lots of other denominations or churches to choose from that are consistent with our values.

  • Vrob125 on February 15, 2012 12:13 PM:

    It's beginning to look like the real issue wasn't birth control. The Catholic Bishops seem to be coming from another angle that goes deeper than the pill or the IUD. It appears that they wanted to fight this administration--and piggyback on the Republican Party's campaign to regain the White House. If that is so, it backfired.
    That is because Catholic women use birth control at the sames rates as non-Catholic women, and so the meat of the argument is gone.
    If you know a Catholic couple that has less than four children, they are either on birth control, have fertility issues, use the "natural" approved Catholic method (bless their hearts), or don't have sex.

  • esaud on February 15, 2012 12:45 PM:

    Scott Brown (R-MA) has come out in support of the Blunt Conscience (pun intended) bill. This has to be political suicide. I can't wait to see Elizabeth Warren turn him into mince meat.

    And isn't it amazing how the same folks who don't want guvmint interfering with medical care don't mind it if corporations do.

  • JM917 on February 15, 2012 2:29 PM:

    @ esaud:

    Massachusetts is full of Catholics who DO take the pope's and the bishops' word very seriously and who deeply resent any Protestant/Harvard-"elitist" sniping at the One True Church. These types also remember the days of "No Irish Need Apply." Tribalism runs very deep.

    I would assume that Pretty Boy Brown has taken polls and discovered that there are plenty of votes to be had by coming out against the Pill and fornication, and by defending the honor of His Holiness. Elizabeth Warren steps into the "anti-Catholic" beartrap at her peril.

  • Paolo on February 15, 2012 2:39 PM:

    Those bishops sure keep insisting on raising the stakes.

  • Darsan54 on February 16, 2012 2:16 PM:

    I listened to one of most patronizing steaming pile of dogcrap last Sunday and decided enough is enough. I have been a Catholic for 54 years. I put up with a lot s**t thru college and grad school because of it. I have attended Mass regularly and am a Eucharistic Minister and Lector in my parish.

    But when our priest basically told us birth control isn't a health issue because pregnency isn't a disease, dismissed the idea of sex for other than procreation (I have been married 30 years too)and compared having sex for pleasure to bulimia (really truly he did!), I said to myself that's it.

    I'm done. I'm out. To bend so blatently to a political ploy and to be so ignorant about sex, marriage, intimancy and general HUMAN behavior means it's time for me to leave. This priest too is one who I thought would be way wiser and more sensitive. I have been betrayed by my church. I still believe, but I can't be in teh church anymore.

  • Ted Frier on February 16, 2012 3:03 PM:

    I am a practicing Catholic and on this issue you have a rather strange phenomenon of some Catholics supporting the form but not the substance of their bishop's complaints. They are willing, in other words, to defend the church itself as an institution out of loyalty even if they are with the president on the issue itself. That means this is a debate the president ought to be able to win easily by showing the proper amount of respect for the institution. But it is one the bishops could easily lose -- and do seem to be losing -- by pushing their war against birth control too far and making themselves out to be even more unreasonable and extremist than a lot of Catholics (like me) already think they are.