Monday, 13 February 2012

Catholics, contraception and Barack Obama

Feb 10th 2012 The Economist

THE Obama administration's decision to compel Catholic universities, hospitals and charities to pay for insurance that covers contraception provides a good opportunity to discuss the issue. It seems that many Americans hold an immutable belief that the policy was wrong. And they hold this view in the face of data which show that women, men and society in general are better off when contraception is easily accessible.

Nearly all sexually-active women (which is to say the majority of women) use contraception. Even among Catholics and Evangelicals, contraception use is the norm. Many would consider this reason enough to compel employers to provide coverage. But there are also reasons that may appeal more to a churchgoing conscience. As Adam Sonfield at the Guttmacher Insitute points out, there is a large body of evidence that shows contraception use has helped women avoid unintended pregnancies, which in turn has led to lower abotion rates, healthier babies, stronger marriages and improved social and economic conditions for women.

For example, Charles Westoff of Princeton University found that as Central Asian and eastern European countries embraced the use of modern contraception their abortion rates substantially declined. Closer to home, a study by a group of doctors published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the decline in pregnancy rates amongst American teens "appears to be following the patterns observed in other developed countries, where improved contraceptive use has been the primary determinant of declining rates." (Teen pregnancy is now at a 30-year low, thanks in large part to increased contraception use. Studies have also shown that greater availability of contraception doesn't lead to an increase in sexual activity.) Another study in California found that the state's family-planning programme, which provided contraception to nearly 1m women in 2007, averted about 300,000 unintended pregnancies, over 100,000 abortions, and 38,000 miscarriages.

All of this research, and much, much more, is out there. Most all of it points to the benefits of making contraception easily accessible.

US President Barack Obama said the policy "saves lives and saves money".

Catholic leaders have been angered by the new rule, which required Church-linked institutions to offer health insurance including birth control.

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