Survey: A woman's religious affiliation does not predict her stance on contraception

A recent survey shows that a woman's religious affiliation does not predict her stance on contraception.

The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, was to assess women's health care preferences and general attitudes on how they expected the Affordable Care Act would affect their health care.

Roughly 66 percent of Protestant women and 63 percent of Catholic women said they agreed that employer health plans should include contraception. That's more than nonreligious women, who tied with non-Christian women at 59 percent. Less than half of Baptist women agreed that plans should cover contraception, at 48 percent, while 45 percent of other Christian denominations agreed.

Overall, 56 percent of women supported mandated health coverage of contraception, with less than a quarter believing employers should be exempt from the law because of religion.

Women overwhelmingly agreed that insurance should not cover abortion. Only 23 percent of women supported abortion coverage in health plans, but another 23 percent believed religious hospitals and colleges should be excluded from contraception coverage requirements.

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Elizabeth Patton, a clinical lecturer of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Health System who led the study, said several sociopolitical and individual factors appeared to shape women's attitudes, such as race/ethnicity, income, education level, and geographic region of residence.

Patton said the relationship between religious affiliation and attitudes toward contraception is "quite nuanced and complex," and while the study didn't look at other political issues, she said she suspects the link between religious affiliation and attitudes toward politics is "as nuanced as the relationship with birth control."

The study was released the same week that the U.S. Supreme Court had a federal appeals court reconsider its ruling that Notre Dame comply with the health care law's contraception mandate. Notre Dame is one of more than 100 nonprofit institutions to sue the federal government for the legal obligation to include contraception in their health coverage.

The Public Religion Research Institute conducted a similar study in March measuring attitudes toward contraception among millennials (those between 18 and 35 years old). Religion, gender, race, political affiliations, age, level of education, region -- all taken into consideration, the numbers showed similar percentages agreeing that contraception is critical for a woman's financial security.

Only one group of millennials deviated far below the 60 percent average: 38 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe contraception is essential for a woman's financial welfare. White Catholics also fell below the average, with 56 percent in agreement, compared to 63 percent of Hispanic Catholics. Those with no religious affiliation topped the rest, with 76 percent believing contraception is vital for a woman's financial security.

Other responses on the PRRI study showed overwhelming agreement across the board for millennials. About 70 percent said birth control is morally acceptable, and roughly eight in 10 said health insurance should include prescription contraception. Almost the same number of millennials believe all forms of legal contraception should be readily available on college campuses (78 percent), as well as increasing its access for women who can't afford it (81 percent). But millennials are far more split when it comes to emergency contraception, such as the "morning-after pill," as 55 percent oppose requiring a prescription to receive it.

Only 9 percent of millennials believe birth control is morally wrong, the PRRI study found.

The University of Michigan's Patton said: "To effectively develop reproductive health policies in the United States that serve all women, we need to understand the full spectrum of women's perspectives on reproductive health care, including those of religious women."

"We also need to debunk the idea that religious participation is a marker of opposition to reproductive health care coverage. Bringing in the full spectrum of women's voices helps us do that," she said.

[Soli Salgado is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is ssalgado@ncronline.org.]

A version of this story appeared in the April 24-May 7, 2015 print issue under the headline: Surveys show nuanced support for contraception .

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