Catholics and Contraception (Again!)

On Interfaith Voices I interviewed Robert P. Jones, the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) about their latest polling on the so-called “contraception mandate.” That’s the provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide employees with free contraceptive coverage in health care plans.

Exemptions have already been provided for religious institutions such as houses of worship and religiously-affiliated institutions that would consider such coverage a violation of their teachings. The Catholic bishops have not been happy with these exemptions, and they recently voted to continue their crusade for change.

But now, another kind of entity has joined the fray. Enter Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores owned by the Green family. This is a for-profit business owned by a family that is religiously Evangelical. The Green Family opposes contraception and worries that some forms of it might cause abortions in some instances. Consequently, they sued the Dept. of Health and Human Services to exempt themselves from this contraceptive mandate. The case is called Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in this case the week of either June 23 or June 30.

Meanwhile, what do people of faith think about the argument of Hobby Lobby? Turns out: not much. About 6 in 10 Americans believe that publicly-held corporations (61%) and privately-owned corporations (57%) should be required to provide their employees with health insurance that includes contraception at no cost.

Catholics agree with the general population. According to the PRRI website, “a majority of Catholics believe that publicly-held corporations (56%), privately-owned corporations (54%), and privately-owned small businesses (53%) should be required to provide their employees with health insurance that includes contraception.”

The only religious denomination that stands out in the poll is the white Evangelical group. Only 34% of them say that private companies should be required to offer free contraception in health plans. 

When I asked Jones about the difference -- since both religious traditions are officially opposed to contraception -- he said simply, “partisan politics.” About 75-80% of white Evangelicals are Republican, and the contraception mandate is one of many dimensions of the partisan divide over “Obamacare.” Catholics, on the other hand, are more evenly split between the parties, and so offer a different overall viewpoint.

And Catholics, Jones noted, pay little attention to the church teaching on contraception in actual practice.  More than 8 in 10 find it morally acceptable. And they actually use it at the same rate as everyone else. (No surprises here.)

I wonder if the bishops ever read these statistics, or if any of them dialogue with any Catholic laity on this issue. If they did, they would find out that for most Catholics, contraception is a non-issue on their moral radar.

It’s time for the bishops to stop harping on contraception, and talk about something else … like climate change … that poses a real danger.

Click here to listen to the interview.


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