Carolyn Moynihan

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

Carolyn Moynihan
By Carolyn Moynihan
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September 18, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - 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.

The picture, of course, looks decidedly better among regular Mass-goers. Among young women (18-34) who attend every week, 27 percent completely accept the Church’s teaching, and among those who both attend Mass weekly and have been to confession within the past year that figure rises to 37 percent. Just 24 percent of the women who go to Mass every week completely reject the teaching on contraception, and for those who have been to confession that figure drops to 12 percent.

Even among the dissenting majority, however, not all are closed to the Church’s message on this subject. Hasson and Hill point out that about a third of these women mistakenly believe that the Church itself gives them the right to make up their own minds about which methods of family planning are morally acceptable. Many do not reject the Church’s authority out of hand.

Top reasons for contraceptive use

Mistakenly or not, 53 per cent of all women in the study who dissent in part or completely from church teaching cite a couple’s “moral right” to decide which method of family planning they will use. This makes it the top reason given for rejecting church teaching on the matter.

Two other reasons are cited frequently among this group: 46 percent say couples have “the right to enjoy sexual pleasure without worrying about pregnancy”, and 41 percent think that natural family planning is not an effective method to space or postpone pregnancy.

The authors perceive two main dynamics shaping these views: the influence of a cultural mindset that divorces sex from procreation and promises “sexual pleasure without consequences”, and a deficit on the church side in presenting Church teaching.

The latter can be deduced from the fact that 72 per cent of women surveyed said they rely mainly on the homily at Sunday Mass for learning about the faith, and yet just 15 per cent of that group fully accept the Church’s teaching on sex and reproduction. The weekly Mass homily, the authors say, “seems to represent a lost opportunity when it comes to conscience formation on the contraception issue.”

As for cultural influences, they seem likely (although the authors don’t say so) to account for at least some of the scepticism about natural family planning given the systematic bad press NFP is give by mainstream family planners and the media.

For the pastors of the Church, all this represents a steep challenge. Yet Catholic women may be more receptive to the Church’s view of things than first appears.

Openness of the “soft middle”

Importantly, the survey shows they are more open to children than the average American, their “ideal” number of children averaging 3.5 (or 4 if money were not a factor) compared with the American ideal of two or fewer.

Also, say the study authors, “When presented with an accurate description of the Church’s teachings on family planning many Catholic women show reluctance to completely reject the Church’s teaching.”

Instead, three groups emerge: “the faithful” (who fully accept the teaching—13 percent of the sample), “the dissenters” (who completely reject it—37 percent), and the “soft middle” (who accept “parts” of the teaching). In addition, a significant number of women in the “soft middle” (about half of weekly Mass-goers) show openness to learning more about church teaching on contraception and natural family planning.

Good will shown by many women in the “middle” represents an opportunity for the Church, the authors point out—and natural family planning may be a good starting point for communicating the Church’s teaching about procreation. About one in four of those who attend Mass regularly shows an interest in learning more about the method: hearing from other couples about the health and relationship benefits of NFP, what doctors say about it, and scientific evidence about its effectiveness. Such messages may be more persuasive than spiritual or authoritative ones, the authors suggest.

But alongside their message that many Catholic women are “reachable” the authors warn that the task is becoming more complicated. While the survey shows 10 percent of church-going women have had abortions (lower than the national average), 17 percent of younger women have used emergency contraception. This means that the Church has to inform women about the potentially abortifacient nature of EC “as well as arguing more persuasively that contraception itself is wrong.”

The Catholic bishops are fighting the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate—that is, the policy of forcing all employers, including Catholic institutions such as hospitals and schools, to provide full cover for contraceptives, sterilisation and emergency contraception in their health insurance plans—as an attack on the free exercise of religion, which it is.

But in light of the information in “What Catholic Women Think…” the mandate may be a blessing in disguise. By forcing the issue of contraception to the top of the Church’s public agenda it has created an opportunity for the Church to have an internal conversation on the subject—the kind of opportunity that perhaps has not been seen since Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968.

The study from the Women Faith and Culture project shows that such a discussion is long overdue.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License.


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African denounces Western elites pushing population control in his country

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By Ben Johnson

An op-ed in one of the leading publications in Uganda has denounced the promotion of IUD use and other long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) in the nation as a colonialist form of population control.

An article published in New Vision, which bills itself as “Uganda's leading daily,” and which was posted online after being translated into broken English, contradicts the frequent claim that there is a desperate cry from Africans and brown people generally to provide the “unmet need” for contraception in the Third World.

Programs to convince African women to use the IUD or other forms of contraception “are projects of multibillion international agencies distributing them under the guise of helping the poor countries to control birth rates,” Stephen Wabomba wrote.

The use of the IUD leads to an increase in “the spread of STIs/HIV/AIDS, infections or increased rates of Pelvic Infection Diseases (PID),” and other maladies, he said. The IUD, which is inserted into the uterus and may work for years at a time, offers no protection against sexually transmitted diseases and often does not prevent fertilization.

Western governments and NGOs are very much “aware of the side effect[s] but still force them on us through sensational marketing strategies by claiming that there is unmet need” for contraception “in Uganda,” he wrote.

He instead suggested the use of Natural Family Planning methods as the “best alternative” for married couples, as well as increased “funding of chastity and abstinence education in Uganda.”

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He called on every citizen of Uganda “to stand up and be counted as a lover of life” and become a “protector of the voiceless and defenseless unborn children being aborted every day.”

Wabomba is heeding his own advice by acting as director of the Pregnancy Help Center in Jinja, the second largest city in Uganda. The town of 87,000 is perched on the shores of Lake Victoria.


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UN tells Chile and Peru to legalize abortion

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By Guilherme Ferreira Araújo

On July 7 and 8, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) discussed Chile’s abortion laws and issued a report asking for liberalization of those laws.

According to the report, Chile “should establish exceptions to the general prohibition of abortion, contemplating therapeutic abortion and in those cases in which the pregnancy is a consequence of a rape or incest.”

Chile is one of the few countries that prohibits abortion in all cases.  So far, the country has managed to stand against internal and external pressure to legalize abortion.

But during her campaign, President Michele Bachelet promised to make the legalization of abortion a priority.  Indeed, last May she stated that her intention was to reopen the debate so that the government could approve therapeutic abortion before the end of this year.  The U.N. report also said that Chile “should make sure that reproductive health services are accessible to all women and adolescents."

One of the reasons the UN is using to pressure Chile’s government to change their abortion laws is the high number of clandestine abortions allegedly taking place in Chile. The UNHRC points to “official data” showing 150,000 annual clandestine abortions. However, not only is it impossible to corroborate that figure, but other sources show that this number could be exaggerated by a factor of 10.  According to an article published in the Chilean news publication, Chile B, the annual number of clandestine abortions in Chile may vary between 8,270 and 20,675.

Inflating the number of illegal abortions and maternal mortality is a common tactic of the pro-abortion movement’s effort to legalize the deadly practice. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), famously admitted the tactic after becoming pro-life.

“We claimed that between five and ten thousand women a year died of botched abortions,” he said. "The actual figure was closer to 200 to 300 and we also claimed that there were a million illegal abortions a year in the United States and the actual figure was close to 200,000. So, we were guilty of massive deception."

Chile has also been used as a prime example that legalized abortion does not reduce maternal mortality.

A study published in 2012 by Plos One Institute found that since 1989 when Chile banned abortion, there has been an annual decrease in maternal death. That study, and others compiled and published by the Chilean MELISA Institute strongly challenge the myth that abortion is safe or even necessary to increase maternal health.

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Notwithstanding the empirical data, the United Nations is also hard at work to pressure Chile’s neighbor to the North, Peru, to liberalize its own abortion laws.  In the case of Peru it is the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that has issued the report, not the UNHRC.  CEDAW representatives examined Peru’s case on July 1 and suggested that Peru should legalize abortion in case of rape and severe abnormalities of the unborn child.

The organism suggested that the government eliminate all laws that punish women who abort and asked that Peru “urgently” adopt a law to fight violence against women, a notion often used as a euphemism for legalizing abortion.  

The CEDAW commission presented the conclusions of the report on July 22 and put special emphasis on the abortion issue. This happens despite the strong opposition to abortion in Peru. A recent survey showed that 79 percent of Peruvians support the Catholic Church’s position on abortion.

The CEDAW pressure on Peru is not new. In 2011, after the UN sanctioned Peru for denying an abortion to a teenager, Carlos Polo, Director of the Population Research Institute’s Latin American office, stated that the UN organism doesn’t have the right to force Peru to approve abortion.


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People ask me all the time, “How do you live with your past?” My answer is silly, but it is a true story. Youtube screenshot
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I helped so many women abort their babies. Now how do I live with that?

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By Abby Johnson
Abby Johnson business card Planned Parenthood

I have many memories of my time with Planned Parenthood. I spent eight years of my life there. Some memories are good, some are not. But they are contained in my mind. It’s easy to forget them. I have forgotten so much about my time there in just four and a half short years. 

I found my old business card the other day. That is a tangible memory for me. It made me think of the day that I heard I had been promoted to direct the clinic. I was so happy…hugging and jumping up and down with my supervisor. She was so proud of me.

I thought about the day I moved everything into my new, big office. I put pro-choice stickers all over my file cabinet. I called my parents to share the news. They were, of course, proud of me, but hated my work. I can’t imagine how conflicted they were in their minds and hearts. Human resources sent me my new paperwork. There was my new title, my new and amazing salary. 

A few days later, my new business cards came. I remember putting them in my new business card holder on my desk. I filled up the business card holder that I kept in my purse. I had already become used to hearing myself say my new title.

I was proud of myself. I was proud of the hard work I had put in to earn that new title. I worked so many hours, sacrificed so much time from my family. But I knew it would be worth it. And now I had the job title to prove it.

I remember proudly passing out my new business cards to anyone that would take one. Being pro-choice was not just a movement to me; it was a lifestyle. I wholeheartedly embraced that lifestyle and loved being a part of it. 

These tangible reminders that I occasionally find are sometimes hard to work through. I remember receiving the records from my medication abortion. That tangible reminder of my past was difficult to manage. I look at my “Employee of the Year” award that I received from Planned Parenthood and think back to the night I received it. I ended up putting that old award on my desk as a reminder of where I came from and how much my life has changed. Seeing that plaque no longer brings back those tangible memories. 

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One of the reasons I was so taken aback when finding my old business card was not just because it was a reminder of how proud I had been to run an abortion clinic…something I find deplorable now. It was because of the things I took part in while I had that big title.

The memories of handing women small monetary checks in order to pay for their silence after we had left them with a serious infection after their abortion. The memories of watching women bleed out on our abortion table and being instructed not to call the ambulance because we didn’t want to let the pro-lifers know that we had a medical emergency. The memories I have of “joking” about the babies that died in our facility by abortion. The memories I have of training our abortion facility employees on the “normalcy” of abortion and how to convince women that abortion is the best choice for them.

Part of being a former abortion clinic worker is learning how to deal with your past sin. It may be the lady who came to your clinic for an abortion that you bump into at the store. It could be standing in front of your former abortion facility and remembering all of the damage your words and actions did to so many women. It could be finding that old business card that reminds you of the pride you felt when you became the director of an abortion facility. 

People ask me all the time, “How do you live with your past?” My answer is silly, but it is a true story. 

One day I was watching the kid’s movie “Kung Fu Panda” with my daughter. In the film there is a wise, old tortoise named Oogway. He is talking to one of his students who is frustrated with his current situation. Oogway asks his student, “Do you know why today is called the present? Because it is a gift.”

That little line by an animated tortoise hit me like a ton of bricks. Today is a gift. There is absolutely nothing we can do with our past. And there is very little we can do to control our future. We live NOW. We serve NOW. We choose to move on from our past NOW. 

I don’t know what your past sins are. And I don’t know how frequently you are reminded of them. But as someone who has to face their past sins on pretty much a daily basis, I can tell you that you can be free from their burden. Being reminded of your past doesn’t mean that you have to live with constant grief. It simply means that you have been given the opportunity to transform your past into something positive…maybe you can help others make different choices than you did, maybe you can help others heal from the same struggles that you lived through. I don’t know what you are being called to do, but as the saying goes, “God can turn our mess into a message.” 

Carrying around past burdens doesn’t help us in any way. Know that you can be forgiven. Accept that forgiveness. Use your life to help others. The present is indeed a gift.

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