End the battle with the Catholic Church. No stumble has been as avoidable as the confrontation provoked by the Obama administration over the HHS contraception and sterilization coverage mandate. Catholic bishops have pressed for universal health-care coverage in the US for almost a century, and were a natural ally for Obama’s social-justice initiatives. All that changed when Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided that the federal government could define religious expression in such a way that Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities didn’t qualify, and therefore could not opt out of the mandate – even when they self-insure, as many do.
Last week, 43 Catholic institutions filed lawsuits against HHS over the mandate in 12 different federal courts. The news media didn’t do much to cover the lawsuits, but the bishops have kept parishioners well-informed on the issue for months. In 2008, Catholics comprised 27 percent of the overall vote, which Obama won by nine points, 54/45. A poll taken by Pew in April shows Obama losing the Catholic vote 45/50 to Romney. The difference between 54 percent and 45 percent of the Catholic vote in the 2008 election comes to a little over 3 million votes – a pretty large chunk of votes to give away.
In contrast, expanding the exemption to cover religious institutions such as hospitals, schools, and charities would only mean leaving less than a million people to pay for their own contraception, as people have always done with no problem, as the CDC’s own data shows. Recasting the exemption would immediately get Catholic bishops out of the way and allow the Obama campaign to argue that they have the best ability to deliver on social-justice reforms. At this point it may be too late to reclaim the votes they have already lost, but at least they could stanch the bleeding in a demographic Obama won handily four years ago.