This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 2, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: That's a dramatic web video by a group called Catholics Called to Witness. It's what we're seeing about what we're witnessing in this political environment, videos popping up advocating on one side or another. Catholics obviously factoring in after 43 Catholic institutions filed lawsuits this week against the Obama administration over the contraception mandate in the health care law by the HHS.
This as we told you earlier, Gallup has a new poll out showing that pro-choice, people who identify themselves as pro-choice, are at the lowest percentage since this poll was taken, pro-life at 50 percent, pro-choice at 41 percent. There you see that.
We're back with the panel on this issue. Steve, how big a deal is this? The question we ask on the text to vote question is how big will social issues factor in to the election? But on this Catholic issue specifically, how do you read it?
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, that's the right distinction to make. Social issues broadly I would say not likely to have a huge impact, at large, in the election in November. On this issue, though, with Catholics specifically and this question of religious liberty, I think that it's possible that this has a pretty significant impact. If you look at the argument that Republicans have been making and the church is making in these lawsuits, it's fundamentally about religious liberty and about whether the government can compel the church to do things that go against the church teachings. This is beyond contraception. It's not this sort of micro issue that the press was obsessed with when this was first debated six weeks ago. It's a much bigger issue. If Republicans can frame that it way I think this can have a significant impact, particularly in those places where Catholics make up much of the independent vote or crossover Democratic vote in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, what have you.
If this issue resonates, and you can bet between now and November since the church leadership has decided to pick this fight, they have given up trying to be conciliatory, they've decide we are now going to fight this, you can bet that Catholic parishioners are going to hear about this on Sundays from the pulpit.
BAIER: I mean, Steve is right. This is the most active we have seen the Catholic Church. Archbishop Dolan -- Cardinal Dolan now really speaking out a lot about this and a number of church leaders are very vocal on this.
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Right. And Steve has made the point that they tried to work with the administration and it fell on deaf ears and they felt the negotiating went nowhere but that they had tried in good faith.
I'm going to say what I said before, which is an unpopular position, which is that I think that this galvanizes the voters on both sides. It is a net washout. Catholics who are upset about a religious liberty issue arising from the HHS regs that came out months ago before we got into discussing whether there would be exemption or not are still upset about it. They are not going to support Obama. They are going to enthusiastically vote against him. People who were Catholics who thought that this was not a big deal probably still feel the same way. And I don't think non-Catholic voters are going to get excited about this. I think they're excited -- the persuadable ones among them left, about the economy -- and this is not going to move a lot of numbers.
BAIER: But in the context of the Gallup poll that shows the pro-choice numbers down and pro-life numbers roughly where they were, does it give you a different perspective on where the country is?
STODDARD: I think from what we saw with the administration jumping on this issue in February, they are able to move their groups on their side very well and raise a hell of a lot of money on this. And I think they'll do it again, I just think in the end this is going to be just a wipe.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, elections come and go, but the Constitution endures. And this is a hugely important constitutional issue. The substance of this is extremely important. Of all the liberties in our Constitution, the first in the First Amendment is religion. And the way if you are a secularist and you believe in the Leviathan state that you want to restrict it is by restricting the definition of religion. And that's what the suit is about.
Under the HHS regulation, religion is practiced only in church on Sunday essentially. Once you walk out the church door you are not engaged in religion, even if you are running a Catholic hospital or a Catholic charity. And that is a complete undermining of the idea of religious and religious vocation. And that's why this suit is being brought, because if you are outside the protection of the First Amendment in a Catholic hospital or a Catholic charity, then the state can dictate that you do anything it wants, even if it's a violation of your deepest doctrinal beliefs.
BAIER: I want to mention one thing. And we are following up on this, on a story the rest of the week, but 30 of these lawsuits mention this, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was brought forward by then-Representative Charles Schumer, now Senator Chuck Schumer from New York, Democrat, and the late Senator Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts, brought forward in 1993 to protect religious exercise from laws that might unintentionally restrict it. 30 of those lawsuits mention that particular law. We will follow it.
That's it for the panel. But stay tuned for an example of how not to end an interview.
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