Catholic Women and Contraception: Stark Challenges, Hidden Opportunities

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By Mary Rice Hasson

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CONTACT: Mary Rice Hasson, Fellow in Catholic Studies, at mhasson@eppc.org

New Data Shows Catholic Women’s Views on Contraception More Nuanced Than Reported. Twenty-seven Percent of Young, Weekly Church-goers Support Church Teaching on Contraception.

Washington, D.C. – A new report, What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception, co-authored by Mary Rice Hasson, a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and Michele M. Hill, offers surprising new data about the views of church-going Catholic women, ages 18-54, on faith, conscience, and contraception.

Highlights from the groundbreaking research include the finding that while only 13% of church-going Catholic women completely accept the Church’s teachings on family planning, acceptance doubles (27%) among young women (18-34) who attend Mass weekly. It climbs still higher, to 37%, among women who both attend Mass weekly and have been to confession within the past year.

Further, a strong plurality of church-going women (44%) express a nuanced view of Church teachings on family planning, accepting “parts” but “not all” of those teachings. Many of these women, including 53% of weekly Mass-goers who accept “parts” but “not all” of Church teachings on family planning, say they are receptive to learning more about them. In particular, women express interest in learning about the health and relationship benefits of natural family planning as well as its effectiveness.

“The data show that the more plugged-in a woman is to the Church and the Sacraments, the more likely she is to accept Church teaching on family planning,” says study co-author Mary Rice Hasson. “But our research also uncovered a hidden opportunity. There are many Catholic women out there who don’t fully accept the Church’s teaching but are open to learning more about it. Two-thirds of these women are already involved in parish life. In short, they are receptive and reachable. This is good news.”

The report contains troubling news as well, however. Overall, 85% of Catholic women believe they can be “good Catholics” even if they do not completely accept the Church’s teachings on sex and reproduction. Similarly, 53% of women who reject the Church’s teaching on contraception claim a personal “right” to decide the issue. And up to one-third of Catholic women are simply mistaken about what the Church actually teaches about family planning. Hasson notes that the Church is missing a prime opportunity to communicate persuasively its teachings on family planning: although 72% of church-going Catholic women rely on the Sunday homily as their primary source of learning about Church teaching, just 15% of these women fully accept Church teaching on contraception.

Even so, notes report co-author Michele Hill, “Nine out of ten Catholic women say their faith is important to their daily lives. They want to be good Catholics. And they are a far more diverse group than they are given credit for. Many of them will be receptive to Church teaching, given the right message and the right approach. I can’t encourage our priests enough to present the Church’s beautiful teachings-gently, but with conviction.”

Survey research, conducted by the polling company, inc./WomanTrend of Washington, D.C., is based on a nationwide online survey of 824 church-going Catholic women, ages 18-54. Margin of error is + 3.5%.

The report, What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception, contains a full discussion of survey results and is available here on the Ethics and Public Policy Center website. It is also available at whatcatholicwomenthink.com and http://www.womenfaithandculture.org/.

For further information, please contact Mary Rice Hasson by email: mhasson@eppc.org

Mary Rice Hasson is a Visiting Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.