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.
The emergence of new forms of contraceptives, like Plan B and ella, will likely keep the birth control issue on the boil. In December 2011, 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 source guide provides background and resources for reporters covering this volatile topic.
Denominational statements on contraception
The Religious Institute, a multifaith organization focused on sexual health, education and justice, posts denominational statements about contraception.
“CDC: Sexual Health”
Resources dealing with sexual health, including contraception, are posted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Insurance Coverage for Contraception Laws”
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.
“Public Divided Over Birth Control Insurance Mandate”
A survey in early February 2012 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.
“Survey: Majority of Catholics Think Employers Should Be Required to Provide Health Care Plans that Cover Birth Control at No Cost”
The Public Religion Research Institute released findings in February 2012 of a survey it conducted about the mandate. The findings include breakdowns for different religious backgrounds and age groups.
“Catholics’ Approval of Obama Little Changed”
As of mid-February 2012, the controversy over birth control hadn’t significantly affected Catholics’ views of Obama, according to Gallup Daily tracking.
“59% of Catholics Disapprove of Obama’s Job Performance”
A poll done in early February 2012 by Rasmussen Reports indicated that despite a slight improvement around that time 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.
“Americans To Health Plans: Pay For The Pill”
More than three-quarters of Americans say birth control pills ought to be covered by insurance, according to an NPR/Thompson Reuters poll in 2011.
“Use of Contraception in the United States: 1982-2008”
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.
“Different states’ contraceptive rules leave employers room to maneuver”
According to a Feb. 19, 2012, Washington Post article, 28 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.
“Mitt Romney and the GOP’s War on Birth Control”
Read a Feb. 6, 2012, article from U.S. News & World Report about the Republican party’s “war” on contraception. It reports that ninety-nine percent of U.S. women use birth control sometime during their childbearing years, according to the CDC.
“Most Catholic women use birth control banned by church”
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.
“Disparities in Unintended Pregnancy Grow, Even as National Rate Stagnates”
An August 2011 Guttmacher report outlines increasing disparities between the rich and the poor in rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion.
Articles, blog posts
“Obama Plan B Decision: Feds To Comply With NY Judge’s Ruling”
Read a June 10, 2013, article from the Associated Press (posted by the Huffington Post) about the federal government’s decision to comply with a New York state judge’s ruling on the Plan B contraceptive. While the Obama administration pushed to make 15 the minimum age at which a female could purchase Plan B without a prescription, the New York ruling eliminated age minimums entirely in the state for the contraceptive.
“The Plan B Absurdity: Emergency Contraception Is Treated Like A Drug That Could Be Abused”
Read a May 3, 2013, opinion column from Forbes about the controversy surrounding the Plan B contraceptive and the FDA’s ruling that the drug should be available to girls starting at age 15.
“FDA Approves Over-the-Counter Plan B for Women 15 and Older”
Read a May 1, 2013, article from ABC News about the FDA’s decision to make the Plan B contraception available to women 15 and older without a prescription.
“Does Plan B Cause Abortion?”
Read an April 5, 2013, article from Christianity Today about the Christian controversy surrounding the Plan B contraceptive.
“The Bible and Birth Control”
Read a March 2, 2012, blog post on crosswalk.com about the Bible and birth control.
“Church could be forced to ‘give up’ public work, Cardinal George says”
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.
“Democrats See Benefits in Battle on Contraception Access”
Read a Feb. 28, 2012, New York Times article about how Democrats are welcoming the focus on contraception.
“How the Catholic Church almost came to accept birth control”
Read a Feb. 24, 2012, Washington Post op-ed column about the Catholic Church and birth control. It’s by historian Elaine Tyler May, author of America + the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril and Liberation.
“States, Catholics sue over contraceptives rule”
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.
“Contraception coverage fights spread to states”
Read a Feb. 22, 2012, Politico article about how the fight over contraception coverage is spreading to the states.
“Catholic Hospitals Expand, Religious Strings Attached”
Read a Feb. 20, 2012, New York Times story about how the growth of Catholic hospitals might limit access to reproductive care.
“Birth control as an election issue? Why?”
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.
“The Other Birth Control Debate”
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.”
“What an abortifacient is — and what it isn’t”
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.
“What the contraception controversy taught us about religion in America”
Read an article by Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, about the debate over contraception in America. The Feb. 17, 2012, column is on The Washington Post’s On Faith blog.
“Santorum clarifies birth control stance”
Read a Feb. 17, 2012, post on CNN’s Political Ticker blog about former GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum seeking to distinguish between his personal views and his public policy positions on birth control.
“Santorum defends backer after contraception remarks”
Read a Feb. 17, 2012, CBS News story in which Rick Santorum discusses his views on birth control.
“Religious Groups Equate Some Contraceptives With Abortions”
Read a Feb. 16, 2012, New York Times article about how religious groups equate some contraceptives and abortion.
“Some Christians Endorse Obama’s New Contraception Policy”
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.
“Evangelicals ‘Outraged’ by Obama’s Contraceptive Compromise”
Read a Feb. 10, 2012, Christian Post story about some Christian leaders and organizations responding negatively after Obama tweaked the initial coverage mandate in an attempt to accommodate religious objections.
“United We Stand for Religious Freedom”
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.
“The Complicated History of Catholics, Protestants, and Contraceptives”
Read a Feb. 9, 2012, article at Slate.com on how, historically, the issue of contraceptives divided Catholics and Protestants.
Marilyn J. Keefe
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.
Stephanie Ventura heads the reproductive statistics branch of the National Center for Health Statistics.
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.
Sister Carol Keehan is president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association, which has worked to improve children’s health care coverage through a partnership with the Campaign for Children’s Health Care. Contact Fred Caesar.
The association initially reacted positively when the White House revised the coverage mandate but later said it plans to scrutinize the matter further.
Dr. Douglas Laube
Dr. Douglas Laube is a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He previously served as chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health and president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Hal C. Lawrence III
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.
Jessica Arons is president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project in Washington, D.C., which favors full reproductive freedom and access to the related technologies for all women, regardless of age.
Dr. Richard H. Reindollar is the chief executive officer of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Wayne C. Shields
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.
Religious groups and their advocates
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.
Seventh-day Adventist Church
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has an official website with resources on beliefs and practices, missions and statements on the livelihood of practitioners and members. The website has a page with links to the church’s official statements on birth control, human rights, climate change and more than 100 other aspects of debate and culture.
Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, which works to foster “a culture in which all human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.” He also leads the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which tracks religious persecution around the world.
He announced Feb. 20, 2012, that he was releasing a letter signed by 2,500 religious leaders who oppose Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.
Shari Rendall is director of legislation and public policy for Concerned Women for America, a conservative group that aims to bring biblical principles to all levels of public policy.
The group mobilized its members to oppose the coverage mandate.
Jay Sekulow is chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., a leading pro-life religious legal advocacy group that frequently litigates on behalf of religious groups.
He and his organization have been active in the fight against the contraceptive coverage mandate.
Hannah Smith is senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing employers in several legal challenges to the birth control mandate.
Other advocacy groups
Jennifer A. Marshall
Jennifer A. Marshall is director of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., and former director of family studies at the Family Research Council. She has written widely about Republican support of moral issues such as abstinence education, defense of marriage and welfare.
She co-hosted a Feb. 27, 2012, panel discussion of religious liberty issues raised by the contraception mandate.
Louise Melling is a deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and the director of its Center for Liberty. She is the former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project.
Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Contact through the media department.
Caitlin E. Borgmann
Caitlin E. Borgmann is an associate professor at City University of New York School of Law and editor of the Reproductive Rights Prof Blog, which posts news about abortion and other reproductive rights issues. Borgmann has testified before several state legislatures about reproductive rights.
Ryan E. Lawrence
Dr. Ryan E. Lawrence is a psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian and is an instructor in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. 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.
Daniel C. Maguire
Daniel C. Maguire is a theology professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee and editor of Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions. He is also president of the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, a multifaith organization of religious scholars interested in reproductive health and other issues.
Elaine Tyler May
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.
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.
John A. Robertson
John A. Robertson holds the Vinson and Elkins Chair at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. He has written and lectured widely on law and bioethical issues. His books include The Rights of the Critically Ill.
Leslie Woodcock Tentler
Leslie Woodcock Tentler is a history professor at the Catholic University of America and the author of Catholics and Contraception: An American History.
In the Northeast
Helen M. Alvaré
Helen M. Alvaré is a professor of law at George Mason University in Virginia. Alvaré chaired the commission investigating clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and was an adviser to Pope Benedict XVI’s Pontifical Council for the Laity, as well as an ABC News consultant. Her scholarship regularly addresses current controversies about marriage, parenting and the new reproductive technologies.
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.
Marvin M. Ellison
Marvin M. Ellison is Willard S. Bass Professor of Christian Ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine, author of Same-Sex Marriage? A Christian Ethical Analysis and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
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.
Mary Ann Glendon
Mary Ann Glendon is the Learned Hand Professor at Harvard Law School and was a vocal advocate of Pope John Paul II’s views on women, abortion, sexuality and related issues. In 2004 the pope appointed her as head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, at that time the highest Vatican post ever held by a woman. From 2008 to 2009 she was the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.
She is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.
Katie Grimes is an assistant professor of theological ethics at Villanova University 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.
Alan Mittleman is a professor of Jewish thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan as well as the director of JTS’ Tikvah Institute for Jewish Thought.
He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.
Stephen F. Schneck
Stephen F. Schneck is chairman of the department of politics and director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., which studies current public policies regarding Catholic social attitudes.
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.
Elizabeth Sepper is a law professor at the University of Texas, Austin. She is an expert
on religious liberty. Previously, Sepper was a Center for Reproductive Rights Fellow at Columbia University law school and co-authored a Feb. 9, 2012, U.S. News & World Report post about the Obama administration’s contraception coverage mandate.
In the South
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. He is an expert on Islamic law, and his interests also include human rights, reproductive rights and women’s rights in Islam. He is a participating scholar with the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics.
Robert D. Benne
Robert D. Benne is professor emeritus and research associate in the Department of Religion/Philosophy at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. He has written about visions of life through film.
Christine E. Gudorf
Christine E. Gudorf, professor of religious studies at Florida International University in Miami, has written about the issues of integrating ethics into hospital care. 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.
Amy Laura Hall
Amy Laura Hall is an associate professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. She teaches courses on Christian love and has written extensively on reproductive ethics.
Francis Manion is senior counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., who specializes in First Amendment law and pro-life legal matters. He has represented pharmacists and other health care professionals who have refused on moral principle to provide certain services to patients.
Gerald R. McDermott
Gerald R. McDermott is the Anglican chair of divinity history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala. He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.
Russell Moore is director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today.
He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.
In the Midwest
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.
Stephen V. Monsma
Stephen V. Monsma is a research fellow at the Paul Henry Institute at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., whose books include (as author) When Sacred & Secular Mix: Religious Nonprofit Organizations & Public Money and (as co-author) Faith, Hope and Jobs: Welfare to Work in Los Angeles.
Monsma says the fight over the contraceptive coverage mandate is about religious freedom, not birth control.
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.
Laurie Zoloth is a professor of religion and ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where she previously served as dean. Before coming to the University of Chicago, she was a professor of religious studies at Northwestern University and professor of bioethics and medical humanities at the university’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Zoloth is a past president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. She is the author of Health Care and the Ethics of Encounter: A Jewish Discussion of Social Justice and co-editor of Notes From a Narrow Ridge: Religion and Bioethics and The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate.
In the West
Dr. Laila Al-Marayati
Dr. Laila Al-Marayati is a physician and past president of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Muslim Women’s League, which represents Muslim women and supports the status of women as equal members of society. The league has a speakers bureau and position papers on topic issues such as divorce, honor killing, female genital mutilation, gender equality, inheritance and women’s dress. Members often speak at interfaith public events and at their children’s schools to increase awareness, particularly during Ramadan.
Thomas A. Cavanaugh
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.
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.
Kirtly Parker Jones
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.
Deborah R. McFarlane
Deborah R. McFarlane is a professor in the department of political science at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She co-wrote the book The Politics of Fertility Control.
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.