OTR Interviews

Will 'ObamaCare's' contraception mandate be a factor in 2012 presidential election?

Will the Catholic Church's furor over the president's health care contraception mandate be a factor in November?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 7, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: The GOP candidates are taking turns blasting the president about a new health care rule. The rule requires all employers to cover birth controls for their workers, and it includes most Catholic organizations who oppose birth control. Now the Republican candidates are taking the controversy to the campaign trail.


MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Remarkably, under this president's administration there is assault on religion, an assault on the conviction and religious beliefs of members of our society. Right now, the president's team has done things I find extraordinary.

NEWT GINGRICH, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Many of you may have noticed that the Obama administration has declared war on the Catholic Church and other religious institutions. I want you to know on the very first day I will sign an executive order repealing every anti-religious act of the Obama administration.

RICK SANTORUM, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is what happens when you give elites power. The whole idea of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more power you give to this government, the less freedom you have.


VAN SUSTEREN: So how will this hotly debated issue had impact the vote in November? Ali joins us from "Roll Call." Nice to see you.


VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any sort of measurement how it's going to be affect the Catholic vote and how big the Catholic vote is in this country?

ALI: About 27 percent of electorate is Catholic, and Catholics are big in a lot of battleground states, including Florida and Nevada. A lot of growth in the Catholic population has been Hispanic, so Arizona and states like that.

But it's not exactly clear that Catholics are going to be voting based on this particular issue. President Obama ran as pro-choice candidate in 2008 but he won the Catholic vote. So I think the administration is doing a pretty good job of pitting this as a women's right issue and healthcare issue, and it's very possible that alto of the Catholic voters will buy into that.

VAN SUSTEREN: So to galvanize and get people revved up in the women's movement. So it's almost like a good fundraising issue?

ALI: Yes, we're seeing that happening actually on the left. Today a lot of Democratic senators went on the Senate floor and talked about that very issue. They are pitting this as an assault on women's health. I think it's really beneficial for the Obama administration because it allows them not to have to talk about the economy which is not a winning issue for the president.

VAN SUSTEREN: And Republicans candidates are coming out swinging. I haven't heard from Congressman Ron Paul, but Governor Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich they are hitting him right between the eyes on this one.

ALI: There is a potential for this to blow up as a religious freedom issue on the conservative side. You see the National Association of Evangelicals believe it's an assault on religion. I think the candidates are seizing that opportunity.

It's as much about fighting each against as fighting President Obama. Romney wants to show she strong on this issue so some of the conservative voters that support Gingrich or Santorum will be more comfortable supporting him.

VAN SUSTEREN: The Catholic bishops are very distressed by this. The issue is to what extent they can hold Catholics in the fold on this issue or not.

ALI: They are very powerful. They got this letter writing campaign. A lot of church going Catholics, they heard the priests read out letters about this issue. So they do have a lot of weight within the Catholic community. Really the question is, is that going to be the issue that voters vote on in November.

VAN SUSTEREN: On Capitol Hill, the Democratic Catholics who are Democrats, they struggle with issues like pro-choice.

ALI: Yes, but there are a lot of Catholic Democrats who would say that birth control is OK or is up to woman to decide whether she should have it. Birth control is so common in this country, and people don't see it as contentious as abortion.

VAN SUSTEREN: The Hispanic vote, Hispanics a huge population of Catholics, which way are they going to go on this? Would they go vote Democratic or vote with their religion?

ALI: Hispanic Catholics are socially conservative especially on abortion and birth control. But I think there are so many other factors. We're talking about immigration, jobs like we are with any other constituency. It really remains to be seen.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any swing state -- you named the states with the huge Catholic populations. But I guess states like Missouri, Pennsylvania, these are important states?

ALI: And even Illinois, which is the president's home turf, there's a huge Catholic population there. But we are months out from November. I don't know if this issue will stick out long enough to play into the general.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is the provision?

ALI: The provision requires that universities, hospitals, nonprofits that are run by religious groups like the Catholic Church have to provide birth control, subsidized birth control in their employee health plans.

The Church itself and churches are exempt from this requirement, but when you are running a university where you have a lot of employees that are not Catholic funding that institution, then the administration is saying you have to play by the same rules as any other private company which has to provide birth control.

VAN SUSTEREN: So Notre Dame or other Catholic schools, they must comply with the rule and Obama administration, but they're saying we're a Catholic institution and we don't want to do it.

ALI: Yes. Actually, there are a lot of states that have the requirement. There are many that abide by the rule. The administration is saying, hey, this is the middle ground. This is not an extremist stand on our part.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you.