March 24, 2015 — Although Catholic Church leaders remain opposed to the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) contraceptive coverage requirements, a majority of lay Catholic women support the policy, according to a study by University of Michigan researchers, The Atlantic reports.
The Catholic Church was an early critic of the federal requirement that employer-sponsored health plans include contraceptive coverage at no cost to beneficiaries. Other conservative-leaning Christian groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, soon joined the opposition to the rules. Many religious leaders have said that the Obama administration should exempt employers that hold themselves out as having religious ties, such as certain hospitals and universities, from the requirements, and some entities that hold themselves out as religious have taken the issue to court.
For opponents of the contraceptive coverage rules, a central argument has been that they violate not only the rights of religiously affiliated employers but also those of individuals who purchase their health plans, The Atlantic reports.
The new study examined views on contraceptive coverage among religiously affiliated women ages 18 to 55. According to The Atlantic, it is the first study to specifically assess opinions on the issue among women with religious affiliations in that age group -- women who are of reproductive age or just beyond and are most affected by birth control access.
The researchers found support for having employers provide no-cost contraception was highest among mainline Protestant women, at 66%, followed by Catholic women, at 63%. Further, the rate of support among these two groups was higher than among the general population. According to a previous Public Religion Research Institute study, 61% of U.S. residents believe that public corporations should have to offer no-cost contraceptive coverage, while 57% think private corporations should have to do so.
Meanwhile, women in the most conservative-leaning Christian denominations, including Baptists, non-denominational Christians, Pentecostals and Mormons, were least likely to support the requirement. The Atlantic reports that support among these groups was lower than 50%.
Study researcher Elizabeth Patton, an ob-gyn and health-services researcher at the University of Michigan, said, "People tend to view this as very black and white, but this conversation is more complicated and nuanced."
The researchers also noted that support for abortion coverage was considerably lower than support for contraceptive coverage. Specifically, about 25% of Catholic and mainline Protestant women thought employer plans should offer abortion coverage.
"What this tells us is that women are able to distinguish between the two," Patton said.
Patton noted that Pew Research Center data show that 80% of women have a religious affiliation. "That's why we need to understand the complexity of their views -- because if we don't, we aren't going to have policies that are meaningful for women," she said (Miller, The Atlantic, 3/22).