The Obama administration’s decision to force Catholic institutions to offer free birth control could cost Democrats a chance to retake the House and hold the Senate, amid signs Congressional Republicans will force Democratic lawmakers to take a stand on the matter and GOP challengers will make the decision a campaign issue.
Talk in Washington political circles in recent days has centered on whether Republicans are so focused on the presidency that they might be giving Democrats an opening to take the House.
But growing Catholic anger at the new birth control rule could turn such notions into fantasy. More than any other religious group, Catholics were responsible for handing the House to Republicans in 2010, according to exit polling conducted on Election Day.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) has introduced legislation that would repeal the policy, meaning House Democrats may have to take a vote on the issue. In the Senate, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) sent a letter to Attorney General Holder asserting that the provision violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and calling on Holder to block it from being implemented.
House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have drawn clear lines in the battle, with Boehner suggesting the rule violates the Constitution and Pelosi calling it “a very courageous decision.” Both are Catholics.
The inboxes and letterboxes of lawmakers are about to be flooded following a call on Sunday by Catholic clergy for the faithful to write their members of Congress to protest the rule.
Meanwhile, the issue is spreading to the campaign trail. Conservative George Demos, a Republican contender to challenge Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), on Monday launched a petition to “get Bishop to oppose the ObamaCare mandate forcing Catholic charities and hospitals to provide abortion-inducing drugs – an outrageous violation of their religious freedom.”
Catholics will probably play the lead role among religious groups in determining whether Republicans keep the House and possibly secure control of the Senate.
According to Pew Research, House Republicans gained twelve percentage points among Catholics in 2010, raking in 54 percent of the vote compared to 42 percent in 2008. Catholic support for Democrats dropped from 55 percent to 44 percent.
In the most recent political test of the importance of the Catholic vote, Catholics played a decisive role in the unlikely capture of a New York City House seat last September by a Republican. GOP Rep. Bob Turner won a special election to succeed former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), in part by attracting close to two thirds of Catholic voters, according to polling.