What the contraception controversy taught us about religion in America

Last week, religious leaders, pundits and politicians alike found themselves tangled in a controversy with an unusual number of moving … Continued

Last week, religious leaders, pundits and politicians alike found themselves tangled in a controversy with an unusual number of moving parts.

Gregorio Borgia

AP

Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, gestures during an interview at the North American College in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.

Opposition led by the American Catholic bishops sparked a wider protest after the Obama administration announced its new requirement that employers provide no-cost birth control to employees through their insurance plans. The White House excused churches and other places of worship from the rule, but refused to grant a similar exemption to religiously affiliated organizations like colleges, hospitals, and social agencies. The ensuing firestorm over whether this was an issue of religious liberty or women’s health resulted in a quicker-than-anticipated compromise. By weeks end, the Obama administration modified the ruling to require insurers rather than objecting religious institutions to pick up the tab, while still upholding the principle of making no-cost birth control available to all women regardless of their employer.

Based on polling from the Public Religion Research Institute, which was widely cited last week in the media, I’ve compiled the four most important insights from the contraceptive debate, which shed light how conflicting interests hung in the balance and what implications the final compromise may have for the election.

1)
Americans support the general principle behind the White House’s regulation. A majority (55 percent) of Americans agree that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost. Predictably, however, some demographic groups are more enthusiastic about the mandate than others. Roughly 6-in-10 Catholics (58 percent) agree with the requirement, broadly writ, although support is lower among Catholic voters (52 percent) and white Catholics (50 percent). Religiously unaffiliated Americans strongly support requiring employers to provide no-cost birth control (61 percent), while white mainline Protestants (50 percent) are divided. Notably, white evangelical Protestants, not Catholics, are the religious group most opposed to the general principle. Fewer than four-in-ten (38 percent) white evangelicals agree with the principle that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover birth control at no cost.

 

2) Americans see churches and other places of worship as distinctly different from other religiously affiliated institutions. It was clear that the Obama administration’s decision to excuse churches and other places of worship from the requirement echoed  public opinion. A solid majority (57 percent) of Americans—and similar majorities of all major religious groups—agree that churches should not be required to provide their employees with no-cost birth control through their insurance plans.

 

2)
Americans are more divided over whether religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals and colleges should be exempt from the requirement to offer employees health plans that offer no-cost contraception, and that’s where the debate got messy. The PRRI poll showed that when it came to the more complicated category of religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, and social agencies, Americans (and Catholics) are more divided:

 

·        Nearly half of Americans agree that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide coverage that includes contraception, compared to 46 percent who disagree.

·        A slim majority (52 percent) of Catholics agree with the requirement for religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges, but 45 percent disagree.

·        Complicating matters more, among two key subgroups of Catholics, opposition runs higher:

o       Among Catholic voters, only 45 percent support the requirement, while 52 percent oppose it.

o       Among white Catholics, only about 4-in-10 (41 percent) support the requirement, and opposition rises to 58 percent.

 

3) While
Americans overall and Catholics may be divided on whether religious institutions should be required to provide no-cost birth control in their health plans, the strategically important group of younger women strongly support the mandate
. Obama’s eventual compromise cannot be understood without acknowledging just how strongly young women, who would most directly benefit from the mandate, stood on the religious exemption issue. Among women age 49 and younger (in other words, women of reproductive age)
, 61 percent say that religiously affiliated institutions such as colleges and hospitals should be required to provide no-cost birth control to their employees.

 

4)
Late last week, the White House was caught between a rock and a hard place. But the eventual compromise seems to have upheld a broadly supported principle about the availability of contraception, while creating additional room for exemptions based on religious beliefs.  There is evidence that the compromise may sit comfortably among Catholics in the pews, even if it did not mollify the church hierarchy. The data also suggests that rank-and-file Catholics are not animated because of moral concerns about the underlying issue of contraception itself. Findings from the Pew Research Center this week show that just 15 percent of Catholics say that using contraceptives is morally wrong, while 41 percent say it is morally acceptable and 36 percent say it is not a moral issue. Even among Catholics who attend church weekly, just 27 percent say contraception is morally wrong.

 

The Catholic bishops appear to be gearing up for a long fight against the mandate itself, but the Obama administration’s compromise seems likely to satisfy lay Catholics’ concerns, without losing younger women’s support in the process. Obama’ support among Catholics appears to have remained steady as the controversy raged last week, according to the latest numbers from Gallup. In the short term, though, if there is a clear beneficiary from this tumult, it was probably Catholic GOP hopeful Rick Santorum, whose campaign got a much-needed boost from the renewed focus on culture war issues. Thank you, Obama?

About

Robert P. Jones Dr. Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute and a leading scholar and commentator on religion, values, and public life.
  • tidelandermdva

    The Bishops are demanding not merely that Catholic-affiliated, secular, fee-charging, service-providing enterprises be exemempt from this rule, but that EVERY employer who objects from claimed religious motivations be exempt. What is the implication for Civil Rights? Every bigot can discriminate as long as he cites a religious motivation. So: “NO CATHOLICS NEED APPLY”job ads would be a principle that the Bishops would support. If Lester Maddox had stood in the door of his diner holding a cross instead of an ax handle to keep Blacks out in violations of Civil Rights Acts, the Bishops would support him.

  • ernelson428

    What is distressing is that even after the compromise, repubs are claiming the govt is infringing on the rights of religious organizations, when it is not.
    The compromise does not force anyone to buy birth control aids.
    The compromise does not force a religious based organization to pay for birth control.
    The compromise excludes the church from paying for it while at the same time allowing those whose views are not the same as the church to receive birth control at the cost of the insurers, not the church.
    Quite distressing that this once Grand Old Party has resorted to deceit rather than truth.
    Kind of an interesting correlation, the repubs defending what could be construed as a religious issue while using deceit.

  • SMS45

    Public opinion is interesting, but this is a civil rights issue and as such, the view of the majority is irrelevant. Doing the right thing under the Constitution is all that should matter. As Al Sharpton pointed out, if they took a vote on segregation in the South in 1964, he’d still be riding in the back of the bus.

    The EEOC decided in 2000, that employers who offered health plans could not exclude birth control under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Born Again Bush administration never challanged that ruling.

    The only issue that is relevant is whether the legislation passed the compelling interest test. Everything else is political posturing and muscle flexing.

  • oldtim

    the bullying bishops have not convinced their own flock, let alone the rest of us.

  • carter0311

    What it has taught us is that many Christian demoninations are bigots and hypocrites and they no nothing about the word of God or the teachings of Jesus Christ. Many of the people claiming to be Christian’s don’t even know that Jesus Christ is God and that no one will be able to be saved from their sins by the Father God, except through their belief in the Christ Jesus.

    John 14:6-11
    6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

    8Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

    9Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am?

    Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you?

    10Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. 11Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.

  • ggrant9170

    is our country heading torward a theocracy…

  • carter0311

    Because my deity knows that we live in an evil and sinful world. It knows that the minds of weak, innocent, and vulnerable people are easily manipulated, deceived, and lied to by those who are evil.

  • LouisL

    Conscientious Objectors who are Self-Insured are FORCED to Pay Directly, those Insured are Forced to Pay Indirectly thru Premium.

    This Issue was Cynically Created by Pres Obama in an Election Year to Scare up Donations & Votes. This is not about the GOP, this is about Anyone concerned with Liberty – Libertarian, Indies…

    Just as Pres Obama’s Admin Lost 9-0 when it went to the Supreme Ct to try to tell a Church to it couldn’t Fire it’s own Clergy, we hope Americans Stop this Assault on ALL of Our Liberty

  • getjiggly4

    LouisL, I Admire your Perseverance in using Antiquated & Somewhat Odd Capitalization. Our Founding Fathers would be Proud!

  • carter0311

    I hope not, grant. I surely hope not.

  • Venson_Thomas

    An odd twist — religious influence shuns contraception and abortion but it’s followers — politicians and constituents also influenced by such a line of thought and “religion” — want no part of shouldering tax dollars to pay for the care, feeding and education of the child who’d have been much better off if such a simple thing as birth control had been readily available AND used.

    Then again, kids are a great money-maker for state institutions and charities. Great amounts of public funds are paid out yearly to “save” them. However, what we don’t spend on them during their formative years we pay out, in spite of ourselves, after some are grown and either caught up in our judicial system or bringing forth children they haven’t the monetary wherewithal to pay for or the emotional scope to give proper care. Unfortunately, there’s no sympathy felt then.

    If keeping a woman barefoot and pregnant is allegedly one manner of control, I wonder if, overall, the ensuring of that is yet another exercise of control meant to keep the general public hobbled.

  • Venson_Thomas

    An odd twist — religious influence shuns contraception and abortion but it’s followers — politicians and constituents also influenced by such a line of thought and “religion” — want no part of shouldering tax dollars to pay for the care, feeding and education of the child who’d have been much better off if such a simple thing as birth control had been readily available AND used.

    Then again, kids are a great money-maker for state institutions and charities. Great amounts of public funds are paid out yearly to “save” them. However, what we don’t spend on them during their formative years we pay out, in spite of ourselves, after some are grown and either caught up in our judicial system or bringing forth children they haven’t the monetary wherewithal to pay for or the emotional scope to give proper care. Unfortunately, there’s no sympathy felt then.

    If keeping a woman barefoot and pregnant is allegedly one manner of control, I wonder if, overall, the ensuring of that is yet another exercise of control meant to keep the general public hobbled.

  • LouisL

    Thanks getJiggly, didn’t Think anyone Noticed !

  • Sara121

    This is about secularly purposed businesses being told to follow the same rules as every other secularly purposed business. If the religious in charge of those businesses don’t like it, they can either forego any tax monies they get or stop providing secular services. This is a nation of civil laws that must apply equally to everyone, not religious privilege.

  • cb11

    I think the bishops have fooled themselves into believing that their parishioners actually do as they the bishops preach. Ha. Rude awakening time, boys. Unlike the bishops, their parishioners have to live in the real world. They have to feed, cloth and shelter those kids, and the woman has to deal with the fallen uterus and constant bladder and kidney infections to name just a few issues. Pregnancy isn’t all peace and love. Their are health risks, some of which can kill a woman. Of course, the bishops live in a woo woo fantasy world untouched by the realities that everyone else has to deal with. If men could get pregnant, all those good bishops and their ultra conservative henchmen would be singing a different tune.

  • Sara121

    No the Church is not a democracy. Nor does it have any business trying to impose its beliefs on a democracy.

  • Sara121

    We’re talking about universities and hospitals that serve and employ people who are not necessarily of the same religion as the affiliated employer, and whose purpose is not primarily to inculcate the specific values of that religion. if religious leadership can’t fulfill the professional and legal responsibilities as employers of those types of secular businesses, then they need to get out of that business and stay within their churches which were exempt anyway.

  • WilyArmadilla

    “…those Insured are Forced to Pay Indirectly thru Premium”

    nope. You can find insurance policies that do not include contraception. You can also find insurance policies that are not part of “ObamaCare”© You can even find insurance policies tailored to your own personal needs and requirements. You won’t be *forced* to pay for anyone’s contraception (except in the sense that buying insurance keeps in business the insurance companies, many of who *do* provide such coverage to others even if your own policy does not)

    The premiums might be a bit higher than inclusive policies, but nobody said following your conscience would be cheap…

  • Sara121

    And now they won’t get waivers because they shouldn’t have gotten waivers in the first place. Secular laws to apply to secular businesses. Not religious privilege. The churches and primary schools already get a carved out privilege because they employ and serve primarily their own. That’s plenty.

  • alert4jsw

    We are all free to act on the dictates of our conscience. The key is determining whether our actions are truly moral, and that is not difficult to discern. It comes down to how our actions affect others. All actions by individuals within a society create both benefits and costs to both the actor and to those with whom he or she interacts. It is perfectly acceptable for others to share the benefits of our moral actions. In many cases, benefiting others is the main purpose of those actions. But it is never, ever “moral” to impose the costs of moral action on others. Personally bearing any social or financial cost of acting on our conscience is the essence of what defines it as a moral act. Forcing someone else to bear that burden makes it nothing but bullying from behind a mask of piety.

    To use the example of the pharmacist who wants to “follow his conscience” with regard to contraceptives and “Plan B,” there is a morally acceptable action: find another line of work that doesn’t bother your conscience so much. You are free to believe what you want, but in order for your actions to be truly moral, you must personally bear any and all costs of that choice. Your license to practice as a pharmacist does not confer a license to act as moral arbiter. When a woman presents her prescription for contraceptives, all of the moral choices that matter in that transaction have already been made. To claim the “right” to deny her the prescription because you believe it’s ‘immoral” transfers the costs of your decision to her, and is a profoundly immoral act. Bullying is always a moral evil, regardless of how righteous the bully may believe his or her cause to be.

    And this is why so-called “conscience exceptions” to laws for individuals or institutions are not just unnecessary, but unwarranted. Truly moral actions require no “conscience exception.” That is only necessary to legalize and legitimize moral thuggery.

  • larryclyons

    It is Argie. Equality under the law I think the term is. I am not a member of the Catholic Church. If I were working for a catholic hospital my wife and I could not get contraception covered. If I were working for a non Catholic hospital, no problem. The Catholic hospital is not a church, place of worship, a convent or a monastery. It is a business and ought to be treated like any other enterprise.

  • georgecollison

    Dear Louise,
    What a crock! This means if I belong to a religion that says killing is immoral, I don’t have to pay for the military?

    Right!! Nonsense.

  • larryclyons

    thank the odd sods and gods we don’t live in a theocracy that carter wants.

  • georgecollison

    Right: How dumb are you?
    It is a moral thug when states require auto insurance.
    Believe that???
    It is a moral thug when it requires taxes on gasoline to pay for roads.
    Believe that???
    It is a moral thug when you get taxed on your land to supply funds for reservoirs and water.
    Believe that???
    It is a moral thug when it taxes cigarettes heavily to pay for the eventual lung cancer the product brings.
    Believe that???
    It is a moral thug when it taxes to provide education for kids even when you don’t have any.
    Believe that???
    What type of free wheeling freeloading philosophy do you subscribe to?
    Do you believe that all of this should be free just because you were born in the US of A and have all sorts of “liberties” supplied to you by that birth certificate?

    For you, I fear that “liberty” means other people pay for your expenses because you are “free”. Utter hogwash.

  • oldiesfan1

    alert4jsw, I agree that a pharmacist does indeed have a problem. The problem is that every year more and more immoral drugs hit the market. It is simply wrong to expect the pharmacist to give up his livelyhood because these new drugs are morally offensive to people of faith. It is the people using these drugs that should bear the burden for their actions, and understand that they can not get all drugs at all pharmacies.

  • Sara121

    “…more and more immoral drugs hit the market.”

    The issue is not whether they are “immoral” drugs, but whether they are legal drugs. If a pharmacist is unable to fulfill his or her legal and professional responsibilities to fill a valid, legal prescription, that pharmacist needs to find another line of work.

  • Sara121

    If they are not “merely” businesses, then they need to stop accepting the tax money they get, such as student loans, research grants, medicaid and medicare. Organizations that get tax dollars should not have the right to flout the law and discriminate.

  • oldiesfan1

    Sara- why? Is there a law that every drug with an NDC has to be stocked in ev ery pharmacy in America? No.

    Do you think that doctors write prescriptions for every drug available? No, they do not. Some don’t prescribe certain meds because they feel that they don’t work, are dangerous, or they don’t know enough about them.

    This idea of “rights” in the commercial world is really wierd. Do you get bent out of shape if Best Buy doesn’t carry a model you want?

  • Sara121

    At least at Best Buy I can get a different model of the same type of product, or they will order it for me. In the case of this subset of religious pharmacists, they would do neither for me, even though they advertise the ability to fill legal, valid prescriptions. It doesn’t matter what doctors do or don’t prescribe, generally. When a doctor does prescribe birth control, then a pharmacist has a professional responsibility to either fill it or facilitate it getting filled.

  • oldiesfan1

    Sara, why? Why do you think that a pharmacy has to carry birth control? It’s a business. You can’t dictate what they stock.

  • Sara121

    From another currently posted On Faith column:

    “The Supreme Court ruled in 1990 ( Employment Division v. Smith: 494 U.S. 872) that individuals in the workplace — smoking peyote according to their Native American religion — cannot claim that religious freedom exempts them from the law:

    When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.”

    What Best Buy stocks is done for purely business reasons. When a pharmacist refuses to stock a product on religious grounds, even though others are required to carry it, or at the very least facilitate the prescription getting filled somewhere else, they are in violation of the law. Secular laws for secular businesses, that are applied equally. If religious people don’t want professional responsibilities to impose on their religious beliefs, they need to find another profession. Welcome to living in a pluralistic society.

  • oldiesfan1

    Nope. YOU can not expect everyone else to cater to your every whim. There is no law that says a pharmacy must carry birth control.

    You are confusing what you want with the law and our constitutional guarantees of freedom.

  • plattitudes

    As another example– a few years ago a grocery chain in the Western US came under fire because it decided not to carry alcoholic beverages. Some activists got up in arms, insisting that it was the grocery chain’s religious executives imposing their views on the rest of society. The details aren’t coming to mind (even after a quick google search, «sigh») but I remember there even being a lawsuit filed against them, trying to make them carry beer & wine… and they were laughed out of court.

    Businesses make the decisions to what they carry and when they carry it. They have to answer to their customers, their stockholders (if publically traded) and to the invisible hand of economics.

    In the case of the pharmacist deciding not to carry something (assuming he owns his own pharmacy, and is not a franchisee of a major chain who CAN force him to carry something) he may decide that the risk of not carrying contraceptives is worth bearing. Perhaps his customers for the most part agree with him, and if he takes this stand, and becomes known for it, his patronage may increase. Perhaps he is willing to take the hit of decreased patronage. In any case, it is a business decision, and he will have to bear the consequences. His customers cannot legally force him to carry birth control, any more than they could force Wal-Mart to start selling Toyota Priuses… Prius’s… Priusii?? Aw, screw it, Toyota Corollas.

  • plattitudes

    As another example– a few years ago a grocery chain in the Western US came under fire because it decided not to carry alcoholic beverages. Some activists got up in arms, insisting that it was the grocery chain’s religious executives imposing their views on the rest of society. The details aren’t coming to mind (even after a quick google search, «sigh») but I remember there even being a lawsuit filed against them, trying to make them carry beer & wine… and they were laughed out of court.

    Businesses make the decisions to what they carry and when they carry it. They have to answer to their customers, their stockholders (if publically traded) and to the invisible hand of economics.

    In the case of the pharmacist deciding not to carry something (assuming he owns his own pharmacy, and is not a franchisee of a major chain who CAN force him to carry something) he may decide that the risk of not carrying contraceptives is worth bearing. Perhaps his customers for the most part agree with him, and if he takes this stand, and becomes known for it, his patronage may increase. Perhaps he is willing to take the hit of decreased patronage. In any case, it is a business decision, and he will have to bear the consequences. His customers cannot legally force him to carry birth control, any more than they could force Wal-Mart to start selling Toyota Priuses… Prius’s… Priusii?? Aw, screw it, Toyota Corollas.

  • GabrielRockman

    If you claim that the “compromise” isn’t requiring religious institutions to pay for the coverage of birth control, then please tell me, who is paying for it?

    Ever heard of the expression “there’s no such thing as a free lunch?”

  • myvoicetoo

    The Pandors’s box that was opened pits religous freedom against civil rights in the political sphere. All of this stems from the “every man for himself” attitude that has erupted in this budget crisis. It all stems from money and power.

    Those that see themselves as the moral arbitor’s and defenders of freedom have now become the destroyer’s of our moral obligations to help each other in times of need.

    How about live and let live.

  • gillianaf7

    This bruhaha about contraceptives seems a tad sexist. If the concern is that its morally wrong, then where’s the uproar about condoms which you can buy over the counter? Isn’t that effectively achieving the same goal — with some added STD protection to boot? I’m sure these religious employers aren’t monitoring their male employees. It just seems so stacked against women.

  • louisewilson1

    I have a few extremely devout Roman Catholic elderly friends. They went into their marriages with the attituted that if God wanted them to have children they will. Here came the pregancies. Twins. Two sets at two different times. Each time one died at birth. Miscarriages. 7 survived. The Marine husband died too young from agent orange from the Viet Nam war. She ended raising the 7 on her own. In poverty. This put a strain on our government. She needed help. All the way until the last one was through two years of college. Another one had 10 children. All ended up on the state welfare system. The many fathers simply disappeared after a few babies came into the picture. But her faith did not allow her to use birth control. But it did not stop her from having several “marriages”. The medical bills so far have been so high because several require special needs programs. The state pays for them along with federal assistance. 3 of the children are still at home. The last one will not be 18 for 6 more years. She goes to mass when she feels like it. Another has 5 children, the father also took a hike. This other devout Roman Catholic she said if she remarried she still would not use contraceptives. I want to know just how this is helping to reduce our future debt crisis in the Social Security System, the National debt for our future generation, the strain on our infrastructure, and all the other problems that come into your minds. That is 22 children from 3 women. Now think of the domino affect of procreation for the next few generations in our country vs. a couple of dollars a month for a birth control pill or a condom.

  • Americacares

    As a Catholic, I am astounded how our Bishops are easily swayed by the Right Wing Donors. A a KC Night I am disapointed our leadership commited to support the Bishops and ignore the comprimise submitted by POTUS. What neither realize is that 90 percent of the Women in our Church support the comprimise and over 60 percent of the Males. Just like other issues it takes our Higher Archy decades to catch up the the Science.

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