A federal regulation mandating that all health insurance companies provide contraception coverage with no out-of-pocket cost to clients has prompted a sharp backlash from many religious groups – especially Catholics. It also reignited a debate over the morality of birth control that had lain dormant.
Some say the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services infringes religious freedom because it does not offer a sufficiently broad exemption for faith-based employers and insurers.
Others argue that contraceptives are inherently immoral and should not be subsidized to make them more readily available. They also say that contraceptives are harmful to society.
Religious groups that are not necessarily opposed to contraception are also disturbed that the mandate covers sterilization procedures and so-called “morning-after” pills — such as Plan B and ella — that some say act as abortifacients, though there is an ongoing debate about their effect.
On Feb. 10, three weeks after issuing the “final” regulation and drawing criticism from religious allies and opponents alike, many of them Catholics, President Barack Obama announced that the HHS would craft a new “accommodation” to address the concerns.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Obama administration plans to issue a rule to enact that compromise “in the near future.”
Whether that accommodation will satisfy all religious groups and organizations – it’s likely some will still reject it – the renewed focus on contraception may not disappear so quickly.
The controversy has become a regular feature of campaign rhetoric in this presidential election year, and the debate has not only led Catholics to look again at the church’s long-standing ban on artificial birth control, but it has highlighted the questions some conservative Protestants have raised about the use of contraceptives.
The emergence of new forms of contraceptives, like Plan B and ella, will also likely keep the birth control issue on the boil. Last December, the Obama administration pleased social conservatives and upset social liberals when the HHS overruled the Food and Drug Administration and decided to block over-the-counter sales of “morning after” pills to girls under age 17.
This edition of ReligionLink provides background and resources for reporters covering this volatile topic.
- The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice provides a summary of major faith groups’ views on contraception.
- Resources dealing with sexual health, including contraception, are posted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The National Conference of State Legislatures posts information about which states have laws requiring insurers to cover birth control and/or exempting employers from coverage requirements.
- A survey in early February by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found the public sharply divided on the contraception coverage mandate, depending upon religious and political affiliation. The findings include a section on Catholic respondents’ views about contraception generally.
- The Public Religion Research Institute released findings Feb. 7 of a survey it conducted about the mandate. The findings include breakdowns for different religious backgrounds and age groups.
- More than three-quarters of Americans say birth control pills ought to be covered by insurance, according to an NPR/Thompson Reuters poll.
- As of mid-February, the controversy hadn’t significantly affected Catholics’ views of Obama, according to Gallup Daily tracking.
- A poll done in early February by Rasmussen Reports, however, indicated that despite a slight improvement recently in Obama’s overall performance ratings by the general public, Catholics remained critical, with 59 percent of likely Catholic voters disapproving of his handling of the job.
- See PollingReport.com for more survey results on the subject.
- A report published in August 2010 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a wealth of data about contraception use in the U.S. from 1982-2008. The CDC also posts links to resources and statistics on unintended pregnancy and women’s reproductive health.
- Twenty-eight states already have contraception coverage requirements similar to the one the Obama administration is imposing. Typically, though, organizations objecting to the state requirements have been able to find legal ways around the rules; a federal mandate will make that nearly impossible, critics say.
- Ninety-nine percent of U.S. women use birth control sometime during their childbearing years, says the CDC (as reported by U.S. News & World Report).
- A Guttmacher Institute study found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women in the U.S. have used a birth control method not sanctioned by the church. The full report, titled “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use,” provides numerous other religion-related statistics, as well.
- An August 2011 Guttmacher report outlines increasing disparities between the rich and the poor in rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion.
ARTICLES, BLOG POSTS
- Read a March 2, 2012, blog post on crosswalk.com about the Bible and birth control.
- Read a Feb. 28, 2012, EWTN News/CNA article in which Chicago Cardinal Francis George says the Catholic Church may be forced to halt its work in the public square, such as in hospitals and universities, because of the contraception coverage mandate.
- Read a Feb. 28, 2012, New York Times article about how Democrats are welcoming the focus on contraception.
- Read a Feb. 24, 2012, Washington Post op-ed column, “How the Catholic Church almost came to accept birth control.” It’s by historian Elaine Tyler May, author of America + the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril and Liberation (2010).
- Read a Feb. 23, 2012, Reuters story about the first major lawsuit being filed over the coverage mandate. The plaintiffs include seven states, as well as Catholic groups and individuals.
- Read a Feb. 22, 2012, Politico article about how the fight over contraception coverage is spreading to the states. One such example is in New Hampshire, where a Concord Monitor story details the battle.
- Read a Feb. 20, 2012, New York Times story about how the growth of Catholic hospitals might limit access to reproductive care.
- Read a Feb. 20, 2012, Washington Post story that examines why the discussion of the contraception coverage mandate has become such a hot campaign issue.
- Read a Feb. 20, 2012, column in The Boston Globe that traces the history of the Catholic Church’s position on contraception.
- Read a Feb. 20, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer story that says evidence, including a recent doctoral dissertation, suggests some Catholic hospitals have provided sterilization services.
- Read a Feb. 20, 2012, post at InsideHigherEd.com about debates on college campuses – secular and religious – over availability of the emergency contraception known as “the morning-after pill.”
- Read a Feb. 20, 2012, column on the National Catholic Reporter website about emergency contraception and abortifacients, and why many scientists say that the IUD, Plan B and ella are not abortifacients.
- Read a Feb. 19, 2012, Washington Post story about how state-level contraception coverage requirements have been skirted by organizations that object to them, and why those legal avenues are likely to close if the federal mandate stands.
- Read “What the contraception controversy taught us about religion in America,” by Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. The Feb. 17, 2012, column is on The Washington Post’s On Faith blog.
- Read a Feb. 17, 2012, post on CNN’s Political Ticker blog about GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum seeking to distinguish between his personal views and his public policy positions on birth control.
- Read a Feb. 17, 2012, Associated Press story (posted by The Washington Post) that looks at how Santorum’s past comments on contraception might affect his campaign.
- Read a Feb. 17, 2012, CBS News story in which Santorum discusses his views on birth control.
- Read a Feb. 16, 2012, New York Times article about how religious groups equate some contraceptives and abortion.
- Read a Feb. 11, 2012, Christian Post story about some Christian leaders and organizations responding positively after Obama tweaked the initial coverage mandate in an attempt to accommodate religious objections. An article the previous day detailed negative reactions to the move from other Christian leaders.
- Read a Feb. 10, 2012, op-ed column in The Wall Street Journal by Roman Catholic Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik and Charles Colson.
- Read a Feb. 9, 2012, article at Slate.com on how, historically, the issue of contraceptives divided Catholics and Protestants.
- A March 2000 article by Stateline.org shows that the debate over contraception coverage mandates is hardly new. A number of states enacted or considered such measures in 1999 and 2000, the article says, and two Republican members of Congress introduced legislation to do the same at the federal level.
For related sources, see these other ReligionLink editions:
- Does abstinence-only sex education work? (2010)
- U.S. policies on sexual health care under fire globally (2007)
- Marilyn J. Keefe is deputy assistant secretary for population affairs in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and directs the Office of Population Affairs in Rockville, Md. Contact 240-453-2800, email@example.com.
- Stephanie Ventura heads the reproductive statistics branch of the National Center for Health Statistics. Contact 301-458-4547, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Health and medical organizations
- John Brehany is executive director of the Catholic Medical Association. He says there has been some confusion about whether and when sterilization is ever acceptable at Catholic hospitals. His organization opposes the contraception coverage rule and says the revised mandate falls far short of addressing opponents’ concerns. Contact email@example.com.
- Dr. Mary Davenport is president of the American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The organization has sent several letters about the contraception coverage mandate to its members and urged them to oppose it to protect conscience rights. Contact 510-222-2098.
- Sister Carol Keehan is president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which represents the nation’s roughly 600 Catholic hospitals. The association initially reacted positively when the White House revised the coverage mandate but later said it plans to scrutinize the matter further. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dr. Douglas Laube is chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, which supports the coverage mandate. Contact through the media office, 646-649-9907, email@example.com.
- Dr. Hal C. Lawrence III is executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG has applauded the Obama administration’s stance on contraception coverage. Contact through the communications office, 202-484-3321, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Kirsten Moore is president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization that seeks to ensure the availability of more and better reproductive health products for women. It heralded the announcement of mandatory contraceptive coverage without co-pays. Contact through Morganne Rosenhaus, 202-530-4401, email@example.com.
- Dr. Robert Rebar is executive director of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Contact through the Office of Public Affairs, 202-863-4985.
- Wayne C. Shields is president and CEO of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, which posts “stories from the front lines” (including some that address faith issues) advocating for full contraceptive coverage. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- David Stevens is chief executive officer of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, the nation’s largest faith-based organization of doctors. Its Freedom2Care coalition works to educate and influence policymakers about conscience rights in health care. Freedom2Care opposes the White House’s “contraception coercion decision.” Contact 423-844-1000.
Religious groups and their advocates
- Jill Morrison is vice-chair of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which considers access to birth control a moral issue. Contact through communications director Marjorie Signer, 202-628-7700 ext. 12, email@example.com.
- Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The commission has outlined its objections to the contraception coverage rule and is urging support for proposed federal legislation known as the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which backers say would block the mandate. Contact Land through Elizabeth Wood, 615-782-8401, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Deirdre McQuade is director of planning and information for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Contact 202-541-3070.
- Jon O’Brien is president of Catholics for Choice, which believes that the individual conscience should be the keystone for moral decision-making on reproductive rights matters and that affordable contraception should be available to all. Contact 202-986-6093, email@example.com.
- Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council. He announced Feb. 20, 2012, that he was releasing a letter signed by 2,500 religious leaders who oppose Obama’s contraception coverage mandate. Contact through J.P. Duffy or Darin Miller, 866-372-6397.
- Shari Rendall is director of legislation and public policy for Concerned Women for America. The group is mobilizing its members to oppose the coverage mandate. Contact 202-488-7000.
- Jay Sekulow is chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. He and his organization have been active in the fight against the contraceptive coverage mandate. Contact 757-226-2489.
- Hannah Smith is senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing employers in several legal challenges to the mandate. Contact through communications director Emily Hardman, 202-349-7224, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other advocacy groups
- Jennifer Marshall is director of domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, where she also leads the think tank’s Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. She co-hosted a Feb. 27 panel discussion of religious liberty issues raised by the contraception mandate. Contact through the media information line, 202-675-1761, or email through the website.
- Jane Massey is executive vice president of the March of Dimes, which encourages access to health coverage, including family planning, for women of childbearing age to help prevent premature births and improve child health. Contact 914-997-4488.
- Louise Melling is director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Contact 212-549-2666.
- Jill C. Morrison is senior counsel in health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center. Contact 202-588-5180 or email through the website.
- Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Contact 212-261-4433.
- Cory L. Richards is executive vice president and vice president for public policy at the Guttmacher Institute, which conducts research, policy analysis and public education with the aim of advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide. The institute posts numerous resources about contraception. Contact through Rebecca Wind, 212-248-1953, email@example.com.
- Nearly 100 scholars, plus dozens of activists and others, have signed a letter denouncing the contraception coverage mandate and Obama’s proposed accommodation for religious institutions. The letter is printed on the letterhead of O. Carter Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. Contact him at 574-631-8259, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Caitlin E. Borgmann is a professor at City University of New York School of Law and editor of the Reproductive Rights Prof Blog, which posts news about reproductive rights issues. Contact 718-340-4503, email@example.com.
- Dr. Ryan E. Lawrence is a psychiatry resident at Columbia University Medical Center and is on the staff of the Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago. He co-authored a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine about health professionals’ views on providing treatments to which they have moral objections, such as certain contraceptives. He also has written other scholarly articles on related topics. Lawrence’s academic credentials include an M.Div. degree. Contact through the University of Chicago program, 773-702-0903, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Daniel C. Maguire is a theology professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee and president of the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, a multifaith organization of religious scholars interested in reproductive health and other issues. He is the author of Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions. Contact 414-288-5508, email@example.com.
- Elaine Tyler May teaches in the history and American studies departments at the University of Minnesota. Her books include America + the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril and Liberation (2010). Contact 612-626-7847, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dr. Sandra Reznick is an associate professor in the department of pharmaceutical sciences at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. She teaches a graduate-level course in reproductive pharmacology and can explain differences between the various “morning-after” pills, such as Plan B and Ella. Contact 718-990-2634, email@example.com.
- John A. Robertson holds the Vinson & Elkins Chair at the University of Texas School of Law at Austin. He is chairman of the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Contact 512-232-1307, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Leslie Woodcock Tentler is a history professor at the Catholic University of America and the author of Catholics and Contraception: An American History. Contact 202-319-5484, email@example.com.
- Marvin Ellison is Bass Professor of Christian Ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine and an ordained Presbyterian minister. He studies the ethics of sexuality, health care and other issues and is a participating scholar with the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics. Contact 207-774-5212, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mary Ann Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University. She is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate. Contact 617-495-4769.
- Katie Grimes is a doctoral student in theological ethics at Boston College and one of the authors of a blog called Women in Theology. The blog is featuring accounts by people who have used natural family planning. Contact email@example.com.
- John Stoehr is a lecturer in the English department at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and editor of the Advocate, an alternative newspaper in that city. He wrote a column, posted by Aljazeera.com, saying that the Catholic Church’s campaign against birth control amounts to religious fanaticism. Contact 203-432-2527, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Helen Alvare is an associate professor of law at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. She previously worked with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-life Activities, and her areas of expertise include new reproductive technologies. She can discuss Catholic positions on contraception within the context of American civil law. Contact 703-993-9845, email@example.com.
- Alan Mittleman is professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate. Contact 212-678-8054 ext. 8054, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Stephen S. Schneck is director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He has written that it is a mistake to assume that Catholic voters are monolithic or that they will all follow bishops’ lead on issues such as contraception. Contact 202-319-5999, email@example.com.
- Elizabeth Sepper is Center for Reproductive Rights Fellow at Columbia University law school. She co-authored a Feb. 9, 2012, U.S. News & World Report post about the coverage mandate. Contact 212-854-0721, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. His interests include reproductive rights and women’s rights in Islam. He is a participating scholar with the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics. Contact 404-727-1198, email@example.com.
- Robert D. Benne is director of the Center for Religion and Society at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate. Contact 540-375-2378, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Christine Gudorf is a religious studies professor at Florida International University in Miami. She teaches a course on reproductive ethics and wrote a chapter on contraception and abortion among Catholics for the book Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions. Contact 305-348-2729, email@example.com.
- Amy Laura Hall is associate professor of Christian ethics at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She has written extensively on reproductive ethics. Contact 919-660-3403, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Gerald R. McDermott is Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate. Contact 540-375-2375, email@example.com.
- Francis J. Manion, a lawyer from Kentucky, is a senior counsel with the American Center for Law & Justice. He has represented pharmacists and other health care professionals who have refused on moral principle to provide certain services to patients. Contact 502-549-7020, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Russell D. Moore is dean and professor of Christian theology and ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate. Contact email@example.com.
- Carson Strong is professor of human values and ethics at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis. He wrote Ethics in Reproductive and Perinatal Medicine: A New Framework. Contact 901-448-5700, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Gloria Albrecht is professor emerita of religion and ethics at the University of Detroit Mercy. She wrote a chapter on contraception and abortion within Protestant Christianity for the book Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions. Contact 313-993-1000.
- D.G. Hart teaches history at Hillsdale College in Michigan and is the author of From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism (2011), in which he suggests that evangelicalism and classic political conservatism make for strange bedfellows. He has commented on why birth control has become such a hot campaign issue this year. Contact email@example.com.
- Stephen V. Monsma is a senior research fellow at the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and the author of Pluralism and Freedom: Faith-Based Organizations in a Democratic Society (January 2012), which includes a section about requiring religious organizations to provide services they find objectionable. Monsma says the fight over the contraceptive coverage mandate is about religious freedom, not birth control. Contact 616-526-6993, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Cristina Traina is a religion professor at Northwestern University in Chicago whose work in Christian theology and ethics includes an emphasis on Roman Catholic and feminist thought. She has written about her experiences as a married Catholic woman dealing with church teachings on artificial contraception. Contact 847-491-2938, email@example.com.
- Laurie Zoloth is professor of medical ethics and humanities at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and professor of religion at Northwestern as well. She wrote a chapter giving a Jewish perspective on family planning for the book Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions. Contact 312-926-2990, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Cole Durham is Susa Young Gates University Professor of Law at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and director of the university’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies. Durham is internationally known for his work protecting religious freedoms, and he is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate. Contact 801-422-2281, email@example.com.
- Allison Dabbs Garrett is senior vice president for academic affairs at Oklahoma Christian University. She testified at the recent congressional panel hearing on religious liberty that Obama’s coverage mandate would force her university to provide emergency contraceptives despite its religious dictates. Contact 405-425-5460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah Medical School in Salt Lake City. She teaches the ethics of reproductive medicine. Contact 801-581-3834, email@example.com.
- Deborah R. McFarlane is a political science professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She co-wrote the book The Politics of Fertility Control. Contact 505-277-7130, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, an obstetrician-gynecologist, is spokeswoman and past president of the Muslim Women’s League in Los Angeles and a participating scholar in the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics. Contact email@example.com.
- Thomas A. Cavanaugh is a philosophy professor at the University of San Francisco and one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate. Contact 415-422-6356, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Malcolm Potts is an obstetrician and reproductive scientist and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He has studied oral contraceptives since the 1960s and says the Catholic Church needs to recognize the health benefits – aside from contraception – of the birth control pill. Contact 510-642-6915, email@example.com.