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The Morality of Contraception

Family Planning Is Family Values, Say the Majority of America’s Major Religions

SOURCE: AP/Carolyn Kaster

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) speaks during a committee hearing earlier this month. 

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In the current high-decibel debate over contraception—specifically the religious exemption to the federal requirement that employers cover no-cost contraception in their health plans—opponents claim that the real issue is not women’s reproductive health but religious liberty. In fact, during a recent congressional hearing that focused almost exclusively on contraception in health plans, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) emphasized that the hearing was “not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Obama administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience.” Rep. Issa and his compatriots seem to think that religious liberty applies only to them and their brand of religion. For most religions in America, however, contraception is neither forbidden nor a spiritually gray area but rather an important moral choice.

President Barack Obama recently added an accommodation for those who do not qualify for the exemption to the contraceptive coverage rule. Now, religiously affiliated employers such as hospitals will not have to provide, pay for, or refer employees to health plans that include no-cost contraception. Instead, employees will get this coverage directly from the insurance company itself.

Still, for opponents of contraception even this accommodation is not good enough—they are demanding that contraceptive coverage be stripped altogether from the protections of the Affordable Care Act. While they claim religious liberty as the grounds for their demands, the truth is that they are trying to impose their doctrinal beliefs on a diverse and pluralistic nation. Their agenda would endanger women’s health and well-being and would threaten the religious liberty of millions of people who have different beliefs.

America’s churches support contraception

Of course Rep. Issa, the Catholic bishops, and anyone else who believes contraception is immoral have every right to speak and preach against it. But it is also true that millions of Americans of faith also have a religious liberty to support and use contraception. Indeed, virtually all major denominations in America support the morality of contraception as a personal and family decision—one that helps to ensure responsible parenthood and healthy families.

  • The Episcopal Church as early as the 1930s approved contraception for purposes of family planning. The church calls on its programs and projects to “provide information to all men and women on a full range of affordable, acceptable, safe, and non-coercive contraceptive and reproductive health care services.”
  • The United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States, says that “each couple has the right and the duty prayerfully and responsibly to control conception according to their circumstances.”
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the largest Lutheran body in the United States, supports the use of safe, effective birth control methods and believes that they encourage “responsible procreation.”
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church, supports all methods of contraception except surgical sterilization. In fact, church-owned Brigham Young University’s student health center offers premarital health classes that present a range of birth control options, and affordable contraception is dispensed at the on-site pharmacy.

In addition to supporting contraception, some religious organizations have taken public stands supporting contraception as a basic part of health care, with a role for government in providing it.

  • Presbyterian Church USA supports “full and equal access to contraceptive methods,” and in a recent resolution endorsed coverage for contraceptives as a “part of basic health care.” The church said that “unintended pregnancies lead to higher rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, and maternal morbidity, and threaten the economic viability of families.”
  • The Mennonite Church USA believes access to contraception provides an alternative to abortion and calls on the church and government to promote teen pregnancy prevention programs, family planning, and contraceptive services, in order to reduce the need for abortion.

Even more traditionally conservative religious organizations believe contraception is an important moral choice for a woman and her family.

  • The Assemblies of God, the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, believes contraception is a matter “of personal consciences as godly spouses prayerfully covenant with God about the growth of their families.”
  • The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, supports the use of contraception within marriage, although it opposes contraceptive methods that bar having children altogether. In contravention of this stance, some Southern Baptist leaders recently joined the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in its demand to allow any employer whether religious or secular to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage because of a religious objection.
  • Seventh-day Adventists, one of the fastest growing Christian denominations in the United States, believes that all hormonal methods of birth control and IUDs are morally acceptable.
  • The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod believes that in the “absence of scriptural prohibition,” there should be no objection to contraception within marriage. In addition, the church says there should be no objection to sterilization for couples who already have children and “who now seek to devote themselves to the rearing of those children.”

Conclusion

Although opponents continue to fight the inclusion of contraception in employer-provided health plans, most people of faith believe otherwise. Majorities of Catholic, white mainline Protestant, and religiously unaffiliated Americans believe employers should be required to provide health care plans that cover contraception. To limit access to these basic health services would not only constitute sex discrimination, but it would also trample on the religious liberty of millions of Americans.

Eleni Towns is a Research Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Sally Steenland is the Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative. For more on this initiative please see its project page.

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