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Joe Conason
Joe Conason
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Will Catholic Bishops and the Religious Right Save Obama?


What is most striking about the showdown over contraceptive freedom is not the political victory that President Obama earned by standing up for women's reproductive rights, although his Republican adversaries are certainly helping him to make the most of it. Those adversaries don't seem to realize they have fallen into a trap, whether the White House set them up intentionally or not.

While the Catholic bishops and their allies on the religious right insist that this is an argument over the First Amendment, their true, longstanding purpose now stands revealed to the public. They would begin by imposing their dogma on every woman unlucky enough to work for an employer who shares it — an agenda that is deeply unpopular even among the Catholic faithful, let alone the rest of the American electorate. Then they would impose it on everyone, as the theorists of the religious right suggest every time they deny the separation of church and state.

The bishops have nothing to lose except their flock, whose respect for the hierarchy has plunged anyway over its resistance to reform and its failure to punish abuses far graver and more sinful than contraception. If they had to stand for election, not many of them would be left standing. And if they had to face a referendum on this current matter, they would lose resoundingly to the president, according to the latest survey data.

In a poll taken last Friday for the Coalition to Protect Women's Health Care, Public Policy Polling found that 57 percent of Catholic voters endorse the Obama "compromise" that would ensure continued prescription birth control for women working in religious institutions, without requiring those institutions to pay directly for that coverage. Only 29 percent sided with the bishops, the religious right and the Republicans , while 5 percent actually think the religious institutions should pay for contraceptive coverage regardless of their doctrine.

The cross-tabs of the PPP poll show that Latino Catholics, Catholic independent voters and Catholic women support the Obama solution by wide margins. (The most recent poll by Fox News Channel shows the same overwhelming approval for the president's position among the general public, with 61 percent of voters on his side versus only 34 percent against.)

Those statistics are no threat to the bishops, of course, but represent a profound problem for the Republican leaders and candidates who have signed up for this male geriatric crusade against modernity. Mitt Romney, for instance, seems to believe that by stoking evangelical paranoia about a supposed "war on religion" by Obama, he will subdue evangelical paranoia about his Mormonism (which, by the way, expressly permits birth control). His pandering commenced when he announced his 2012 candidacy, but grew still more intense this week when he accused the president of perpetrating an "assault" on religion.

Such tactics are unlikely to placate the prejudices arrayed against Romney — and even if they did, he will pay a very high price next fall for joining the angriest and most extreme culture warriors on this issue. Congressional Republicans will be courting the same danger if, as promised, they propose legislation that would overturn the Obama compromise and deprive women working for religious institutions of equal rights to contraceptive services.

The president should hold fast. He has proved that it is possible to uphold the principle of full access to birth control, which has been the pro-family social policy of the American majority for half a century, while respecting the religious convictions of all Americans. The wild ranting of his enemies is only helping him now — and may yet ruin them in November.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



4 Comments | Post Comment
Sweeet! Your Feb 11 column re: CPAC confirmed who and what I thought would be in attendance. Today's column confirmed how all this would play out. I don't mind that the GOP is so out of touch, what I do mind is how they continue to be such a drag on the rest of us as we move toward a better future and they continue to try to hold on to and live in the past.
Comment: #1
Posted by: demecra zydeem
Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:54 AM
" Will Catholic Bishops and the Religious Right Save Obama?"

Does Obama need saving?

Comment: #2
Posted by: Tom
Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:34 AM
Mr. Conason,
There is an unrealistic assumption that because the Catholic Church is regarded by its members to be their moral authority, then all who claim membership and especially those in some sort of leadership role should completely toe the line with regard to following the precepts of that moral authority. That we are not robots, that we have free will, that it is very enticing not to follow those precepts logically answers that all will not toe the line. Your perspective is that because it seems that most people do not follow the teaching of the Church then it must be invalid. That is not the way the Church sees it. Based on authority not her own, but passed to her by the higher authority, the Church relays to the world truth, not invented by her, but given to her to guard. The Church therefore cannot go against truth because of the results of a popularity poll. Individually there are many who dissent and act against what the Church has revealed to be true. But the Church has a mission bring these to understanding and reconciliation. That many do not follow the Church shows that many have not fully understood the truth or understand it and are counting that God's mercy will cover their shortcomings. The Church's teachings are not wrong, but difficult. Mr. Conason, I challenge you to actually read what the Church has written and then report on what is false in them. If you do this with honesty, you will find what it says may difficult to practice and does not reflect what many in our flawed society do and promote, but you will not find it to be false. If not amended, enforcement of the healthcare mandate will persecute those who are faithful to the Church, who by conscience cannot side against truth. They will be forced to pay a penalty for what should be a constitutionally protected right to practice their religion.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Lee
Thu Feb 16, 2012 9:51 AM
Lee - Your comment is well reasoned, calm, and very clear. There is also a gentleness to your words. I really admire your skill. Constititionally protected rights mean nothing to the current crop of liberals out to punish anyone who disagrees with wealth distribution and toeing the PC line. Like Nazis they feel absolutely justified in beginning a terrorist campaign against religion. This has become, sadly, a religion to the left. They never do anything wrong and all ills can easily be blamed on others. Your intelligent post is either 3 years or 70 years too late. Look at the responses to Mark Shields last column if you don't believe me.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Tom
Thu Feb 16, 2012 11:22 AM
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