Sunday, February 05, 2012

Obama and Catholic Voters

Just for a change from talking about my books ...  .

A recent story in the Wall Street Journal argues that Obama has made a catastrophic blunder, one likely to cost him the election, by requiring organizations run by the Catholic Church to provide their employees with health insurance that covers the cost of contraception. It's an interesting claim, and I wonder if it is true.

On the one hand, I suspect that many, probably a majority, of American Catholics do not  accept the church's position on contraception—are, for one thing, willing to use it themselves. One might expect them to accept the requirement, perhaps to approve of it. That might be what Obama is counting on.

On the other hand ...  . Human beings have a very strong aversion to being pushed around. I can easily imagine a Catholic who would be delighted if the church dropped its opposition to contraception, who is entirely willing to use contraception, but who is badly offended by having the U.S. government compel the church to pay for services that violate church doctrine.

One interesting thing about this question is that it will probably get answered. After the election, exit polls will provide fairly accurate information on how many Catholic voters supported Obama. If he does considerably worse with them than with voters in general, relative to his past performance, that will be reasonably good evidence that the Journal is right. If not, evidence that it was wrong.

"Most of us never owned slaves and never expect to,
It takes money to buy a slave and we’re most of us poor,
But we won’t lie down and let the North walk over us
About slaves or anything else."
(from John Brown's Body, Steven Vincent Benét's book length poem on the Civil War)

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At 7:03 AM, February 06, 2012, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Obama has been working for literally years to separate the Catholic laity from the Church leadership. He has promoted as Catholic leaders people like Douglas Kmiec, and various dissenters from Catholic teaching in academia and politics, attempting to interpose them as his own Church hierarchy, in an effort to render the bishops of the Church irrelevant. His acceptance of an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame was merely one step in this effort.

Now comes the payoff. His administration is now requiring that Catholic institutions that fail to meet certain stringent criteria must be treated as secular institutions, and provide insurance coverage of procedures they believe are mortally sinful, as though they have no creed or set of beliefs that they are supposed to live by or promulgate. Essentially, this is everything but Catholic parishes and chanceries. Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals, and a host of other institutions are affected.

(Note, something like 1 in 6 of all hospital patients in the U.S. are at Catholic hospitals.)

Obama is gambling that either the bishops will lack the spine to stand up to him on this issue (not unreasonable, given their history), or else that the laity will undercut them and demand they give in.

This is make-or-break time for the bishops of the Catholic Church.

What may also happen, is that the administration will give in and offer a resolution that the Church can accept, or that Congress will force the administration to do so.

But if nobody backs down, we could potentially see the closure of some 1200 hospitals in the United States, which I cannot but think would have an impact on the availability of health care that is other than the president's stated goal at the outset.

In any case, as a conservative Catholic, I hope that the president will reverse himself on this. But if I were an atheist, I still believe that I'd hold the opinion that disrespecting large, ancient and respected religious institutions was not what government was established to do.

At 6:23 AM, February 07, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I suspect that many, probably a majority, of American Catholics do not accept the church's position on contraception—are, for one thing, willing to use it themselves."

This article states that "98 percent of Catholics already practice birth control (and not the “natural family planning” kind), according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute."

At 9:28 PM, February 07, 2012, Blogger Unknown said...

I wonder if the contraceptive mandate helped Santorum in the MN, MO, and CO caucuses of Feb 7. Not necessarily from Catholic voters only, but from churchgoers of all stripes. They might not agree about contraception, but they might agree with Santorum on abortion and agree that the the federal government shouldn't, as David says, "push around" church-owned operations. Of course, Ron Paul is even MORE consistent on the issue because he's for even less government intervention, but the pro-war foreign policy of most pro-lifers prevent them from voting for Ron Paul.

At 12:04 AM, February 08, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"98 percent of Catholics already practice birth control (and not the “natural family planning” kind), according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute."

Taken literally, it's obviously false, because the sum of the number of Catholic women trying to get pregnant and the number not having sex is surely more than 2%. So I chased down the source. What it actually says is:

"Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same among Catholic women (98%)."

So first it's limited to women who have had sex, and second it's a statement not of how many women use birth control but how many have ever used it.

Checking the study the claim is based on, it looks as though about half of the never married women of reproductive age who attend religious services every week have never had sex. It doesn't say what fraction of Catholic women have ever been married, but it's hard to believe that half of them wouldn't come to more than 2%.

An example of why you should distrust that sort of second hand factoid used to support an argument. It's unlikely to be entirely accurate, and the parts that are fudged are likely to be things that at least somewhat weaken the argument.

At 5:58 AM, February 08, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The latest news is that the Obama administration is backpedaling and seeking to compromise on this issue. I'm sure that seeing the political damage this could do caused their about-face.

At 10:29 AM, February 08, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

I don't see that treating a religious organization like any other organization amounts to 'disrespect', as Paul suggested. I think the government should treat all organizations equally.

At 1:54 PM, February 08, 2012, Anonymous Patrick R. Sullivan said...

'I think the government should treat all organizations equally.'

Ignoring the 1st Amendment?

At 11:13 PM, February 09, 2012, Blogger SheetWise said...

I think there is a potentially huge miscalculation here. Catholics have dealt with this issue very publicly, for at least the last fifty years -- and may be the least conflicted. As a non-Catholic, I'm offended. And it may be non-Catholics who are the most offended. I don't like the state telling my neighbors what to believe, and am probably more offended than my neighbors.

At 6:27 PM, February 10, 2012, Blogger Mark Horning said...

Don't forget that one man's contraception = another mans abortion. Per the Obama administration's rules the "5-day after" pill is considered a contraceptive, whereas many folks would see that as an abortion.

Regardless, requiring Catholic Charities to pay for contraception/abortion is just as unconstitutional as forcing a Buddhist food kitchen to serve beef soup.

At 5:10 PM, February 11, 2012, Blogger Kim Mosley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:11 PM, February 11, 2012, Blogger Kim Mosley said...

In the NYTimes today, I was dumbfounded as I read, "Bishops Criticize Proposal on Birth Control Coverage." (

Under the White House’s new plan, religiously affiliated charities and universities would not be required to provide insurance plans that include birth control. However, if an employee wanted contraception services, the insurance company that administered the regular insurance plan would be required to provide it to that employee at no charge.

Once could rewrite this to read (without changing the meaning), All insurance companies shall provide employees birth control, should an employee desire it.

Other than Uncle Sam regulating further insurance companies, it seems that this is a win for those advocating for birth control for everyone.


At 3:28 PM, February 12, 2012, Blogger SheetWise said...

"... it seems that this is a win for those advocating for birth control for everyone."

I agree. And who would understand the fungibility of resources better than an insurance company?

Socialization through mandatory insurance. One thing you can say for the statists -- they're not stupid.

At 5:25 PM, February 13, 2012, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

"On the one hand, I suspect that many, probably a majority, of American Catholics do not accept the church's position on contraception—are, for one thing, willing to use it themselves."

True, but Catholics also correctly see this as a stalking horse for publicly funded abortions (or publicly mandated abortion funding), something they are less tolerant of.


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