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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

February 29, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Contraception controversies energize Catholic voters in Washington of all political stripes

Patricia O'Halloran, Wash. State anti-abortion activist, at a coffee shop near the recent Rick Santorum rally held in Tacoma on Feb. 13, 2011 (Will Mari / UW Election Eye)

Patricia O'Halloran, an opponent of abortion, at a coffee shop near the Rick Santorum rally in Tacoma on Feb. 13 (Will Mari / UW Election Eye)

The Contraception Controversies are at hand for Washington politics.

The conflict over the Obama administration’s birth control-funding mandate and a federal judge’s ruling last week that Washington’s pharmacists don’t have to provide prescribed contraceptives appear likely to drive more Catholics to the Washington Republican caucuses this Saturday — on all sides of the political spectrum.

Here’s three perspectives.

Chris Garrido-Philp is 22, a University of Washington alum, and a Catholic who attends Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bothell. She says she likes the proposed compromise by the administration, especially that “the president gave church-based health care institutions the option of having insurance companies pay for contraception.”

March for Women's Lives abortion-rights rally in Washington, D.C, in April, 2004 (Wikimedia Commons / UW Election Eye)

But, she said, “Some of the more conservative Catholics may say that this isn’t enough, and that the president shouldn’t stick his nose in the ‘business’ of the church.”

That’s a mistaken view, she said.

“I don’t think that’s being a good Catholic. If the people who work at these places aren’t Catholic, or do use contraceptives  … then isn’t imposing your religion on them wrong?” she pondered. “It should go both ways: you should respect the religion of your employer, but they should respect your choices and beliefs. So the insurance paying for contraceptives is a good solution.”

On the other side of the political continuum, the compromise proposal has been rejected by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, and has left some conservative Catholics in Washington dissatisfied.

Patricia O’Halloran, a Tacoma-based doctor, says she is frustrated that the level of mandated coverage doesn’t respect, from her perspective, those who object to certain kinds of treatments on religious-liberty grounds.

“At the minimum, I would like to see a very broad religious exception” clause, she says, one that includes individuals and employers, too, “more broadly.”

O’Halloran is a supporter of Ron Paul, with plans to caucus on his behalf Saturday. She thinks that the contraception controversies will energize Catholics long past the next few months.

Roman Catholic anti-abortion activists at the January 2010 March for Life rally in Olympia, Washington. (Hannah Russell / UW Election Eye)

“People were complacent and oblivious,” before, but aren’t now, she says. “That [the mandate] put the focus of much of Catholic America on this issue.  This issue is definitely not going away.”

Mark, who asked that his last name not be publicized, is a politically moderate Roman Catholic who has voted for Democrats at the local and national level “since Reagan,” he said.

A fan of President Barack Obama on international issues, he supported Obama in the last election but won’t this time.

“I just thought he [Obama] could do a better job of bringing the country together,” he says.

The Tacoma resident is now a fan of Ron Paul. He says that he and his wife have become more devout in their faith and have become more concerned about abortion and the federal government’s role in it.

“I like a lot of stuff [Democrats] stand for,” he says, but not their generally pro-choice position on abortion. And while he’s more conservative on that issue, he identifies with middle-of-the-road Catholics and their concerns, too.

Discussion about the health-care mandate at his parish has increased. “I’ve had more conversations with my moderate Catholic friends about it,” in recent days, he says, in anticipation of the caucus.

“I think the lid is off and it’s going to be an issue” for a while, he said.

Comments | Topics: abortion, conservatives, Religious faith

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