Throughout the bizarroland “controversy” about requiring Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities to provide free contraception coverage, pundits and conservatives have declared that this was a wedge issue that would divide Obama from Catholic swing-voters. This never made any sense. 98% of Catholic women who’ve been sexually active have used birth control, and the American-Catholics-who-do-whatever-the-Bishops-tell-them-to-do demographic is tiny. You know that demographic–the anti-abortion, anti-contraception, pro-labor union, anti-death penalty voting bloc that’s concerned about global warming, opposes most wars, supports much more government support for anti-poverty efforts, wants a more egalitarian economic system, opposes gay marriage, and advocates passage of the DREAM Act demographic. Splitting that cohesive demographic might results in a net movement of a dozen votes nationally. And just about any Catholic who was really upset with the administration over this rule wasn’t going to be voting for Obama anyway.
But the people who said this controversy would drive a wedge were partially correct. It did divide two significant blocs. On one side, you have the majority of American Catholics plus the Catholic Hospital Association, and on the other, you have the US Conference of Bishops. This can no longer be painted as an Obama vs Catholic battle, because it’s now Obama plus the Catholic Hospital Association (who’s head is a nun) vs the Bishops. It’s now an intra-Catholic dispute, and Obama is allied with the group that has far more sympathy with the general public, including practicing Catholics.
So, despite what many of the (almost entirely male) DC bloviators are saying, this was a huge win for the Obama administration, for people who support equality of health care, and for employees of large religious institutions such as hospitals and universities. And it’s a huge defeat not only for the US Conference of Bishops, but also for the Republican party. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum jumped on board with the Conference of Bishops in opposition not just to the mandate, but to contraception itself. That’s a colossal unforced error, and one that will be electorally lethal in November.