Contraceptive use by Catholics and Evangelicals—including those who attend religious services most frequently—is the norm, according to a new Guttmacher report. This finding confirms that policies making contraceptives more affordable and easier to use reflect the needs and desires of the vast majority of U.S. women and their partners, regardless of their religious beliefs.
“In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible,” says Rachel K. Jones, the report’s lead author. “Most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant practice contraception, and most use highly effective methods like sterilization, the pill, or the IUD. This is true for Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, and it is true for Catholics, despite the Catholic hierarchy’s strenuous opposition to contraception.”
The analysis, based on a nationally representative U.S. government survey, has important implications for health policy, which is still at times shaped by the mistaken belief that contraceptive use runs counter to strongly held religious beliefs. The new report counters this myth and shows that opposition to contraception by the Catholic hierarchy and other socially conservative organizations is not reflected in the actual behaviors and health care needs of Catholic and Evangelical women. For instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops actively opposes the designation of contraceptive services as women’s preventive health care that, under a provision of the health care reform law, must be covered in all health insurance plans without cost sharing.
“There is a strong body of evidence demonstrating that contraceptive use and the prevention of unintended pregnancy improves the health and social and economic well-being of women and their families,” says Adam Sonfield, a Guttmacher policy analyst. “Women from all walks of life and varying religious affiliations have come to this same conclusion and acted on it. Sound public policy making should recognize this and support women by making contraceptives easier and more affordable to use. Health policy should not serve as a proxy for religious dogma.”
The report’s key findings include the following points:
- Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same among Catholic women (98%).
- Among sexually active women of all denominations who do not want to become pregnant, 69% are using a highly effective method (i.e., sterilization, the pill or another hormonal method, or the IUD).
- Some 68% of Catholic women use a highly effective method, compared with 73% of Mainline Protestants and 74% of Evangelicals.
- Only 2% of Catholic women rely on natural family planning; this is true even among Catholic women who attend church once a month or more.
- More than four in 10 Evangelicals rely on male or female sterilization, a figure that is higher than among the other religious groups.
Click here for Countering Conventional Wisdom: Religion and Contraceptive Use, by Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke.