At The Atlantic, Patricia Miller focuses on Catholic women in raising an important question: “What Do Religious Women Think of the Contraception Mandate?” Unfortunately, the study she cites didn’t ask many practitioners of the faith. Although about 24 percent of American women self-identify as Catholic, only 17 percent of the poll’s respondents were Catholic. More problematic still, around 40 to 45 percent of Catholic women in the United States attend Mass weekly, but only 4 percent of the Catholics included in the study attend Mass at least once per week.
If you’re interested in the opinions of a religion’s practitioners, it would make sense to talk to them. But this study primarily included the opinions of Catholic women who don’t particularly practice their faith or who, like Miller herself, want to see the church change its mind on fundamental teachings. Of that population, it’s true that many women favor employer-provided contraception. But that’s a different story altogether, not a report on the “followers” and “religious women” that Miller claims to focus on.
Buried at the end of the article, Miller concedes that “the factor that best predicted how women viewed employer-provided reproductive healthcare was how often they went to church. Women who attended services weekly or more often were less likely to think that employers should pay for contraceptives.” In other words, precisely the women that were underrepresented in the study.
I’m one of the weekly-Mass-going Catholic women all but excluded from the study at the heart of Miller’s piece and, along with many others like me, I’m opposed to the “contraception mandate” that coerces religious institutions and believers either to violate their faith or pay stiff fines to the government. I oppose it because, unlike the church’s teachings regarding the transmission of life, the mandate is bad policy for women, particularly for the poor and vulnerable. It furthers the false narrative that a woman’s fertility is a disease that must be treated with chemicals rather than, as practicing Catholics believe, a transcendent process calling each human—man and woman—to become more than ourselves.
How Our Faith Teaches Us to Love Life
Helping make the point, only two days after Miller’s article appeared at The Atlantic, the Catholic Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation. We remembered when God sent the Angel Gabriel to Mary with the announcement that this young, unmarried woman had been created to be the mother of God.
Remarkably, that young, unmarried woman replied to the angel with an unequivocal but wholly voluntary “yes”—despite all the challenges and uncertainties that came along with her decision. She is our example, this week and every week.
Reflecting on the joyful mystery of the Annunciation helps Catholics reach a fuller understanding of the Church’s insistent encouragement that we, like Mary, remain open to life, open to God’s wisdom in our own lives, and trusting of the One who created us. That this important moment in the history of the Catholic faith revolves around Mary’s procreative capacity—and that God himself took on human form in this way—is reason to revere that capacity.
Government Shouldn’t Force Us to Be Hypocrites
Finally, because it’s important for believers to live not as a hypocrites but rather in accordance with our beliefs, the mandate also raises fundamental religious liberty concerns. Forcing Catholics and our schools, hospitals, and social service ministries to act against our teachings erodes our ability to live by our faith, which at its core includes providing care to others. This problem doesn’t seem to overly concern the administration.
In fact, in the Hobby Lobby case—the only contraception mandate case yet to reach the Supreme Court—the government argued that it could force employers to insure any medical procedure lawful in a given jurisdiction, as Justice Alito put it, “no matter how significantly it impinges on the religious liberties of employers.” The administration even unapologetically contended that it could compel employers to cover third-trimester abortions and assisted suicides. To anyone who cares about religious liberty even a little, this position is troubling.
Many practicing Catholic women share these objections to the contraception mandate. Given that fact, it would have made sense to represent us adequately in the study before drawing sweeping conclusions about our opinions on the topic.