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What do Catholic women really think about contraception?

A new study sheds light on Catholic women's attitudes to contraception and how they balance those attitudes with their faith.

  • Carolyn Moynihan
  • United States
  • September 25, 2012
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Back in February this year, when the battle between religious leaders and the Obama administration over the latter’s contraceptive mandate reached a new pitch of intensity, the White House defended its policy by alleging that 98 per cent of Catholic women had used contraception. If that was the case, we were meant to ask, what on earth were the Catholic bishops, for one, making a song and dance about? Hadn’t their own female constituency effectively deserted them on this issue?

The claim, quoted far and wide at the time, turned out to be a political factoid rather than a real statistic. People who analysed the Guttmacher Institute study it came from pointed out that the study was selective and self-contradictory. For a start it was based on a survey restricted to women aged between 15 and 44, so it could say nothing about women between 45 and 100. And one table showed that 11 per cent of sexually active Catholic women who did not want to become pregnant were using no method of contraception at all.

Still, nobody is pretending that hordes of Catholics don’t dissent from their Church’s “thou shalt not” regarding contraception. We do not need the Guttmacher Institute or the White House to tell us that. Nor do we need them to tell us why the many Catholics who never go to church would not bother with one of its more difficult moral teachings.

What we don’t know is why practising Catholics who do go to Mass—and even, if only occasionally, to confession—also feel entitled to reject the teaching.

Why, for instance, do “Catholic moms in minivans drop their children at the parish school and head to their gynaecologists to be fitted for diaphragms or to get a new prescription for ‘the pill’ —and think nothing of it,” as the authors of a new study, What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception, put it.

Do the parish moms have an accurate idea of the Church’s teaching on family planning? After four decades of dissent it would be surprising if they all did. And when the teaching is presented accurately to practising Catholics are they more open to it? What are their reasons for rejecting it, and what would they like to know more about?

For all the times Catholic women have been surveyed on whether they have “ever used” contraceptives, no-one has asked those who practice their faith but not its teaching on family planning, “Why?”, say the study’s authors, lawyer Mary Rice Hasson, a Fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C, and director of the Women, Faith, and Culture project, and Michele M. Hill, a Baltimore Catholic and co-director of the project.

National survey of church-going women

To answer that question a national online survey of church-going Catholic women aged 18 to 54 was carried out in June and July of last year by the polling company inc./WomanTrend. (This is a preliminary report, say the authors, as further insights are expected from focus groups and ongoing in-depth interviews with 100 of the women.) Of the 824 women in the sample, half attended church at least weekly, while the other half attended less than weekly but at least a few times a year.

Their responses confirm that, on this issue at least, church-going Catholics have been influenced far more by popular culture than by Catholic teaching on sex and reproduction. Fully 85 percent of all the women believe they can be “good Catholics” even if they do not accept some of this teaching, including the 37 percent who completely reject it.

Full Story: Why do Catholic women reject their Church’s teaching on contraception? Now we know.

Source: LifeSite News
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