Poll: Contraception not seen as a threat to religious liberty

March 15, 2012, 1:57 pm | Posted by

Public Religion Research Institute released the results a new poll today examining  public opinion on the contraception coverage mandate, religious liberty and other related issues. The data are probably causing some discomfort for those desperately trying to frame the contraception debate as a “war on religion.” From PRRI’s press release:

On the heels of a months-long heated debate on religious liberty, a new national survey finds that a majority (56%) of Americans do NOT believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today. Roughly 4-in-10 (39%) believe religious liberty is under attack.

The new PRRI-RNS Religion News Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, allowed those who said religious liberty is under attack to explain in their own words why they felt the right of religious liberty is being threatened. Despite the recent heavy media focus on contraceptive coverage in the religious liberty debate, only 6% cited the contraception mandate issue. The most frequently cited reasons were perceptions that religion was being removed from the public square (23%) or that government was interfering with religion (20%).

“Some religious leaders, most prominently Catholic officials, have attempted to define the debate on the Obama administration’s contraceptive coverage mandate as a question of religious liberty, but most Americans do not believe religious liberty is under attack today,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “Nearly 6-in-10 Catholics do not believe that religious liberty is being threatened. The only religious group in which a majority believes religious liberty is being threatened in America today is evangelicals.”

This survey also finds those most likely to believe religious liberty is under attack are Republicans, white evangelical Protestants, and Americans age 65 and older.

I was also struck by the fact that 73% of millennials and 58% of political independents don’t buy the argument that religious liberty is under attack. That makes for tough sledding in this election and a bleak long-term outlook for conservatives who are pushing this argument for partisan gain. Public opinion is a volatile thing, so it would be a mistake for defenders of the contraception coverage mandate to rest on their laurels, but it’s definitely encouraging that the huge mobilization against it hasn’t persuaded most Americans.

Here’s a breakdown of what people who think religious liberty is at risk see as the specific threats:

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New Study Shows Reliable Access to Contraception Reduces Abortion

March 13, 2012, 11:30 am | Posted by

As Kristin noted, we’ve been working to discredit the conservative myth that greater access to contraception isn’t linked to lower abortion rates. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum furthers the case for widely accessible contraception with an important point: studies show that women whose prescriptions includes a year’s supply of birth control pills have lower abortion rates than women who have to refill them on a monthly basis.

“But here’s an interesting thing. The El Paso study that Postrel writes about did indeed find that women who got their pills at a clinic were more likely to stop taking them than women who bought them over the counter. However, that was only for women who got monthly prescriptions. Women who got six-month supplies had discontinuation rates that were nearly identical to those who bought OTC pills.

This gibes with another study done in California that compared continuous use of contraceptives among women who got monthly supplies vs. women who got yearly supplies. Over the following 15 months, the women who got yearly supplies were less likely to run out, less likely to get pregnant, and less likely to have an abortion.”

Making oral contraceptives widely available to women – without the hassle of frequent prescription refills or the indignity of societal scorn – is a common-sense solution to mitigate unplanned pregnancies and abortion. It’s clear that faith communities can unite around this common-ground approach to the abortion and contraception debate, and the culture war rhetoric doesn’t represent the facts.

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Blunt Amendment defeated, misinformation continues

March 1, 2012, 4:08 pm | Posted by

birth control pillsAs Kristin mentioned earlier, today was the Blunt Amendment’s day of reckoning in the Senate . Fifty Democratic Senators and retiring Republican Senator Olympia Snowe did the right thing and voted against this destructive legislation. Sadly, the rest of the Republican caucus and three Democrats (Senators Casey, Manchin and Nelson) voted to give corporate bosses the power to pick and choose which healthcare services their employees and employees’ families may receive.

Via TPM, I saw that Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) released a thoroughly misleading defense of his vote:

“However, the Senate is having a debate as to whether the federal government has the right to bully religious organizations. Let’s be clear, in no way would this amendment deny or interfere with a woman’s access to contraception. This is an absurd allegation. The debate today is about one thing and one thing only; whether the federal government can force religious organizations to provide a service that violates their faith. Supporters of the President’s healthcare law believe the federal government can oppress religious organizations, force individuals to buy a product they may not want, and put personal healthcare decisions in the government’s hands.

First of all, giving every employer the power to deny coverage of any treatment based on any ostensibly moral objection most certainly would interfere with access to contraception. USCCB staffer Anthony Picarello indicated as much when he complained that the Obama administration’s accommodation for religious institutions would not allow Taco Bell owners to deny coverage of contraception. The only way Heller isn’t outright lying is if he A) honestly believes that no employer would refuse to cover contraception – in which case this whole fight would be a mere intellectual exercise, or B) is completely unaware that many women cannot afford contraception coverage out of pocket.

Second, the Obama administration has explicitly put in place policies ensuring that religious congregations, dioceses, schools, hospitals, charities, universities, and health care facilities will not be required to provide contraception coverage  if they have moral objections to it. I don’t know which religious organizations Heller thinks are being “oppressed” here, but he must have a broader definition of a religious organization (and a more expansive definition of oppression) than I can imagine. Or, again, he could just be dealing in misinformation.

In the coming days I expect we’ll be hearing more arguments along these lines, but I hope other lawmakers who voted in favor of the Blunt Amendment will provide a more honest explanation for their support of this extreme legislation.  I’d love hear somebody explain why letting employers dictate which health care services their employees’ may receive is a morally defensible way to address religious liberty concerns.

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Fox New Implies Law Students are Sex-Crazed Whiners

February 29, 2012, 12:38 pm | Posted by

After Rep. Darell Issa (R-CA) deemed Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke “unqualified” to speak at his hearing on the contraception coverage mandate and religious liberty, Fluke testified before a special committee last week about the effect this new policy will have on women.

As Tara covered last week, Fluke described the challenges of a fellow law student and friend who required oral contraceptives to treat her ovarian disease. When the university refused to cover her prescription, she was unable to afford the cost out of pocket and forced to stop taking them. Soon afterward she developed dangerous ovarian cysts and had to undergo an expensive, invasive surgery that might prevent her from ever having children.

Yesterday on America Live with Megyn Kelly, Kelly hosted fellow Fox anchor Trace Gallagher to talk about Fluke’s testimony. What followed was the most brazen display of shoddy journalism and old-fashioned misogyny I’ve ever seen on television news.

Following a clip of Fluke explaining that out-of-pocket costs of oral contraceptives can reach over $3,000 during law school—a prohibitive amount for a full-time student—Gallagher cited unnamed “critics” who calculated the large number of condoms that amount of money could buy and impugned the students:

GALLAGHER: Critics, of course, used her statement to kind of do the math, saying 3,000 over 3 years of law school for birth control is a lot of birth control. They mentioned that condoms are about a buck a piece, that equals about a thousand condoms and other birth control, Megyn. So, the question is, they wonder exactly what’s going on at Georgetown Law School. “When do they study?” was the response.

Aside from apparently not knowing the difference between condoms and oral contraceptives, Gallagher completely ignored the entire point of Fluke’s testimony, which focused on women who use oral contraceptives for non-contraceptive purposes. Unless condoms have some medicinal properties I’m not aware of, Gallagher is turning a serious discussion about a woman’s health crisis into a sick, sexist joke meant to distort the debate and demean a brave woman. It’s truly stunning.

Fox News did a disservice to both their viewers and women everywhere by airing such insulting nonsense. They owe Ms. Fluke and her friends a correction and an apology.

Casey Schoeneberger contributed to this post

UPDATE: The unnamed source Gallagher cites is likely this similarly false and offensive CNS News piece from Craig Bannister.

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Why Birth Control is Not Shellfish

February 29, 2012, 11:55 am | Posted by

Two weeks ago during Rep. Darrell Issa’s hearing on the contraception mandate and religious liberty, Catholic Bishop William Lori made an elaborate analogy in his testimony comparing the mandate to a kosher deli being forced to serve pork to its customers.

As I explained, this was a terrible analogy. Employers providing health insurance are entirely different than restaurants serving customers, and birth control is nothing like pork.

Apparently, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s Asma Uddin didn’t get the message. Responding to a question from Chairman Smith at today’s Judiciary Committee hearing on the same subject, Uddin made the following similarly problematic analogy:


SMITH: What are other examples, what else could the government force religious organizatiosn to provide if this madnate were to remain in effect as is unchanged.

UDDIN: Well, I mean, this mandate has been justified on the basis of the fact that there’s health benefits to providing contraceptives. But the issue of health benefits is not the point. If the government mandated everything that had positive health benefits, it could possibly mandate that everyone drink red wine for heart health even though it violates the religious beliefs of Muslims and Mormons. And it could mandate that everyone eat shellfish even though that violates the religious beliefs of Jews.

Uddin’s comments hearken back to the conservative canard that the Affordable Care Act’s individual coverage mandate would allow the government to force you to eat broccoli.

I don’t know what it is with conservatives and force feeding, but let’s be clear here; no one is going to force anyone to ingest anything, pork, shellfish, birth control pills, you name it. Nor, as Republican committee members fretted about in the hearing, does the government now have the power to force individuals to stop smoking, exercise or make any other personal behavior changes.

The policy question at stake is about setting a minimum requirement of services in commercial health insurance plans — services that are optional for the planholder to use.

Even if Uddin were complaining that the preventive service coverage requirement merely sets a precedent for the government to require that shellfish and wine be included in this list of mandated services in the future, she’d still be off base.

The required free preventive services such as cancer screenings and contraception were recommended by the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM), which reviewed evidence-based scientific and medical research and expert opinion to develop a list of services that fit the guidelines set out by Congress in the Affordable Care Act. So long as the IOM isn’t supplanted by the National Restaurant Association, we don’t have to worry about doctors being forced to write prescriptions for shrimp cocktails.

The IOM’s review was professional, rigorous, comprehensive and open to public comment. To suggest that this process might lead to frivolous inclusions of random foodstuffs demonstrates both a misunderstanding of the system and disrespect for the experts involved.

Exasperated protestations against the unprecedented consolidation of power by a “Big Brother” government intent on taking control of every aspect of Americans’ personal lives may make for exciting campaign speeches, but they have absolutely nothing to do with the policies in question.

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