headshotGeorge Marlin
The Obama administration caused a firestorm late last month. Ignoring conscience objections of religious leaders, it ordered Catholic schools, hospitals and charities to amendtheir health-care plans by Aug. 30, 2013to include birth-control services (among them abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures)or be subject to millions of dollars in fines and penalties. This may lead to political disaster in several key battleground states for the president.
Prominent Catholics from across the political spectrum were aghast. New York Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our own consciences . . . Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”


The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, a relentless Obama supporter, denounced the president for throwing “his progressive Catholic allies under the bus.”Sean Michael Winters, a dogged foe of church conservatives, accused the president of “dishonoring your own vision by this shameful action” and vowed not to vote for him this fall.
One needn’t agree with Catholic teaching on birth control to understand that it is, indeed, a matter of core principle — flowing directly from an understanding of human personhood and sexuality to the conclusion that contraception dehumanizes its users and debases love both physically and spiritually. Nor need anyone be deceived by the administration’s pseudo-scientific rationales into seeing the ruling as anything except the brute-force ramming of a particular ideology on the entire nation.
Obama’s assumption looks to have been that Catholics who ignore church teachings on contraception wouldn’t be offended — or at least that any offense wouldn’t matter politically. Oops. Reports from dioceses all over the nation indicate that most Catholics are appalled that the federal government is attempting to circumvent the First Amendment and restrict freedom of conscience.

This political blunder will have a price. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has introduced legislation to repeal the order, summed it up best: “This is going to hurt [Obama] not only among Catholics and religious voters . . . because it reflects a pattern of overreach.”
It could cost Obama the election.Key swing states that will determine the 2012 winner — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida — have large populations of church-going Catholics who are not happy with Obama’s ideologically driven directive.
Obama carried all seven states in 2008, when Republican nominee John McCain won 173 electoral votes, 97 shy of the 270 needed to win. This year, the seven will account for 110 votes in the Electoral College. If just 5 percent to 10 percent of the Catholic vote shifts to the Republican in these battleground states, Obama loses.
Far-fetched? Absolutely not. All seven states have been trending Republican and 2010 exit polls showed that many Catholics, who in 2008 stayed home or voted for Obama, turned out to punish Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.

Catholics angry over the weak economy and the failed stimulus package and disgusted with Democratic legislators (particularly Catholic ones) who voted for ObamaCare, helped the GOP pick up 20 congressional seats in those seven states — a third of their total national House gains.
Catholic voters also provided the margins of victory for pro-life Republican senatorial candidates in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — 50 percent of the party’s 2010 Senate gains, and helped the GOP win the governor’s mansions in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The 2010 results indicate that Catholics have the ballot-box power to send Obama packing in 2012.This November, Catholics can send the message that Obama does not have a providential role, doesn’t know what is best for the faithful and will not be allowed to undercut the very foundations of our democracy.

George J. Marlin is the author of “The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact.” An earlier version of this article appeared at thecatholicthing.org.