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5 Things You Should Know About Religion and Contraception

Most Religious Americans Support Contraception

SOURCE: AP/Susan Walsh

President Barack Obama announces a revamp of his contraception policy under the Affordable Care Act, no longer requiring religious institutions to fully pay for birth control, Friday, February 10, 2012, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.

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See also: Infographic: Women’s Preventive Services Now Covered Under Obamacare by Jessica Arons; State Efforts to Reject Contraceptive Coverage Laws on Religious Grounds by Jessica Arons and Elizabeth Rich; Young Women and Reproductive Health Care by Jessica Arons, Lucy Panza, and Lindsay Rosenthal; Video: Young Americans: What No-Cost Contraception Means to Us

A provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires health insurance plans to include coverage for a range of preventive health services for women with no co-pays goes into effect today, including important services such as annual well-woman visits, screenings for gestational diabetes and HIV, testing for HPV, and breastfeeding support. In addition, the law requires coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods and family planning counseling for women at no additional cost.

The contraception provision exempts churches and other houses of worship with moral objections to birth control from providing coverage. What’s more, the Obama administration provided an accommodation to religiously affiliated organizations such as hospitals, universities, and charities that object to contraception, requiring insurance companies to provide contraceptive coverage directly to employees and students, removing the religiously affiliated organizations from the transaction.

Despite the exemption and accommodation, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and their conservative allies continue to voice their fierce opposition to the law’s contraceptive coverage provision. The bishops launched a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign that included their “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign aimed at persuading the public that the contraceptive coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act violates religious freedom. In addition, the bishops and their allies filed more than 40 lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, seeking to enjoin the regulation.

Religious liberty is a core American value—one we all treasure. But in this case, the cry of threatened religious liberty distorts the real issue, which is that the bishops and their allies are seeking to impose their doctrinal views on a diverse public that holds a variety of different views and beliefs, and they are trying to allow employers to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against their female employees. Ironically, it is their heavy-handed tactics that are threatening the religious liberty, as well as the equal rights, of others.

In truth, millions of American women, many of whom are religious, believe in the morality of contraception—and so do the religious institutions to which they belong. Here are five things you need to know about religion and contraception in America.

  • America’s houses of worship support contraception.
  • Religious Americans use contraception.
  • Religious groups support expanding access to birth control.
  • Religious Americans believe religiously affiliated employers should offer contraceptive coverage to their employees.
  • Many religious institutions already include contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans.

Let’s now briefly examine each of these facts.

America’s houses of worship support contraception

Almost all of America’s major religious denominations support contraception. The Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, Union for Reform Judaism, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or the Mormon Church), and many others believe that a woman and her partner have the moral right to determine whether and when to have a child.

Even traditionally conservative religious organizations such as the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Seventh-Day Adventists believe contraception is an important moral choice for a woman and her family. And last month more than 200 religious leaders from major denominations affirmed in a statement the value of birth control as morally good for both individuals and society.

Religious Americans use contraception

Americans who are religious also believe in the morality of contraception. According to a recent Gallup poll, high percentages of religious men and women believe birth control is morally acceptable. In addition, the overwhelming majority of sexually active women of all denominations who do not want to become pregnant are using a contraceptive method, including 90 percent of mainline Protestant women and 89 percent of evangelical women.

Even among Catholic Americans, whose official church teaching condemns all “artificial” family planning practices, 89 percent believe birth control is morally acceptable and 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women have used contraceptives. In fact, many religious women and young adults use birth control solely for, or in addition to, its non-family-planning reasons, including using it for its numerous health benefits and even sometimes for other religious reasons.

Religious groups support expanding access to birth control

Many people of faith also believe in the important role government can play in expanding access to contraceptive services. Denominations such as the Presbyterian Church, the American Baptist Church USA, and the Mennonite Church USA have taken public stands supporting the role of government in providing health care, including contraception. And according to a recent PRRI survey, 92 percent of religious black Americans, 87 percent of religious Catholic Hispanic Americans, and 85 percent of Protestant Hispanic Americans favor expanding birth control access for women who cannot afford it.

Religious Americans believe religiously affiliated employers should offer contraceptive coverage to their employees

Despite claims by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and conservative allies that today’s Department of Health and Human Services rule infringes on their religious liberty, other religious groups support the rule. For instance, 57 percent of Catholic Americans believe their religious organizations should provide contraceptive coverage and majorities of white mainline Protestant, religiously unaffiliated, religious black Americans, and Catholic and Protestant Hispanic Americans agree that religious employers should be required to provide health care plans that cover contraception.

Many religious institutions already include contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans

Twenty-eight states have contraceptive coverage laws, including the eight states that have no religious exemption. There are numerous religious and religiously affiliated employers, including those that are Catholic affiliated, that provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans in accordance with those state laws. In addition, a number of religiously affiliated institutions, such as Georgetown University, provide contraceptive coverage for their employees voluntarily.

Celebrate “Free the Pill” day!

Contraception is a crucial part of health care for many religious women and families. Being able to plan one’s family improves the health of mothers and their babies, and helps ensure that parents are ready to be the best parents they can be. Such decisions are deeply moral. They are matters of conscience. As a result, many religious communities will celebrate the implementation of this regulation today guaranteeing no-cost coverage of contraception and other preventive services for women and will consider it a blessing.

Free the PillPlease help spread the word about no-cost coverage for birth control by lending us your Facebook and Twitter profile images. Please go to our Twibbon page and add our “Free the Pill” icon to your profiles now.

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

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