Frame game: the importance and composition of polling

Tmatt did a rather comprehensive look at how framing will play a big part in media coverage of the Obama Administration’s mandating of what religious institutions should and should not offer in their employee benefits.

I had to point out a rather dramatic example (even if it gets a bit meta) of the role framing played in a San Francisco Chronicle story by Joe Garofoli:

The battle is over how to frame this issue — as an example of a government mandate trampling on “religious liberty,” as conservatives believe, or as a health policy concern vital for women, as liberals contend.

Well if that isn’t a scare quote example for the ages.

This is a news story. I made sure to check when I first came across this. I can’t imagine a journalistic argument for scare quoting “religious liberty” and not scare quoting the hot mess on the other side of the equation. The fact is that no scare quotes are needed at all when describing how the two sides are framing a topic.

If I may note a silver lining here — I’m having to focus on silver linings as the media coverage we’re being subjected to is not exactly at a high point this month — this issue is being fought on such drastically different fronts that even casual readers are figuring out that reporters are framing the topic in one way or another (unless they’re playing it straight and presenting the competing arguments well).

I wanted to point out how framing can also be drawn out via the use of polls. I was first interested in this when I read about the wide play received by a Public Policy Polling poll that was commissioned by Planned Parenthood. Some news outlets, believe it or not, forgot to mention that the poll was commissioned by an interested party.

Another poll that received wide coverage was done by Public Religion Research Institute. This is a group with strong ties to political progressivism but most polling outfits are somewhat partisan (although there are, of course, exceptions). Different polling groups tend to come up with fairly different results. But I thought it might just be interesting to look at the questions that this (and another poll on the other side of things) asked and then at the results.

The PRRI poll on the HHS mandate had two sections. The first section had four thing that respondents were asked to “completely agree, mostly agree, mostly DISagree or completely disagree” with. Here they are:

a. American Muslims ultimately want to establish Shari’a [PROUNCIATION [sic]: Sha–REE–uh] or Islamic law as law of the land in the U.S.
b. American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the U.S.
c. Methods of birth control should be generally available to teenagers age 14 or older without parental approval.
d. All employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost. {New}

The second part has two questions to be asked after this statement is read:

There is currently a debate over what kinds of health care plans some religious organizations should be required to provide. Do you think [INSERT; RANDOMIZE] should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost, or not? What about [INSERT]?

The two options are:

a. Religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals
b. Churches and other places of worship.

That poll, which was widely covered, was put out with the press release “Majority of Catholics Think Employers Should Be Required to Provide Health Care Plans that Cover Birth Control at No Cost.” The Washington Post reporter who covered the Planned Parenthood campaign against Komen wrote a piece about how the Obama White House senses it’s gambit here is going to work out really well. Here’s a sample:

But while Catholic leadership has blasted the new regulation, polls show that a majority of Catholics are actually more supportive of the provision than the rest of the country. A poll out Tuesday from the Public Religion Research Institute finds 52 percent of Catholic voters agreed with the statement, “employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost.” That’s pretty much in line with overall support for the provision, which hovers at 55 percent — likely because Catholics use contraceptives at rates similar to the rest of Americans.

Now, savvy readers of GetReligion, what do you find most interesting about the polling questions? I’ll weigh in down in the comments.

Now, let’s look at a Rasmussen Reports poll and its questions:

1* Should health insurance companies be required by law to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without co-payments or other charges to the patient?

2* If health insurance companies are required to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without any charges to the patient, will that increase the cost of health insurance, decrease the cost of health insurance, or have no impact on the cost of health insurance?

3* The requirement to provide contraceptives for women violates deeply held beliefs of some churches and religious organizations. If providing such coverage violates the beliefs of a church or religious organization, should the government still require them to provide coverage for contraceptives?

4* Should individuals have the right to choose between different types of health insurance plans, including some that cost more and cover just about all medical procedures and some that cost less while covering only major medical procedures?

5* Should the government require every health insurance company and health insurance plan to cover the exact same set of medical procedures?

This was pushed out under the headline “50% Oppose Gov’t Mandate for Religious Organizations to Provide Contraceptives.” This poll didn’t receive much coverage, outside of conservative media.

Isn’t it interesting how PRRI and Rasmussen conducted their polling? Does anyone have any idea what PRRI was going for by asking those questions about sharia? Isn’t it interesting how divergent the results were?

Does this make you suspicious of certain polls? And isn’t it interesting that we even put questions of religious liberty up for polling? How does that affect news coverage? For instance, listening to NPR this morning, one got the idea that this issue should be decided based on how many Catholics use birth control. This makes no sense on any level.

On that note, a bleg. I was reading Lisa Miller’s opinion piece in the Washington Post today where she argues with no citation that 99% of all women have used birth control during their lifetime. What in the world does that figure even mean? Assuming that abstinence is included (and how could it not be with a figure of 99%), shouldn’t it be 100%? But where the heck is the citation? It’s nowhere to be found. Later she asserts that 98% of Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes. How in the world are we defining contraception? I wanted to find out where that number linked to but the Washington Post citation for it led into an Ouroboros of citation — it merely linked to another article by a Catholic who supports legalized abortion where the figure was cited. Only that time it didn’t even bother an attempt to substantiate. Having seen this figure thrown about in the media repeatedly, could anyone help me find the original study? Not that I don’t implicitly trust everything I read in the paper …

Polling image via ThinkStock.

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  • Martha

    Can I ask something, and this is a serious question: what about birth control/sterilisation coverage for men?

    Is this already included? If a man wants a vasectomy (as a woman might want a tubal ligation), is this going to be part of the health care coverage, or is the birth control/sterilisation only going to apply to women?

    Can men already get surgical methods of birth control covered by their health insurance?

    And if not, why not? Surely that is a matter of equality legislation, where one gender is being discriminated against? And men’s reproductive health rights affect women also, you know: it takes two to tango, as the saying goes, and if a man wishes to avoid contracting/spreading STDs, as well as limiting his family size, surely that should be covered as well?

    Any hint that the policy might/could/should extend to men as well as women, or why is this being phrased solely in terms of the effect on women.

  • Pete

    I’m coming up empty on the original source for the number as well, but it is difficult to find the origin of such a vague statistic anyway. For example, who exactly is considered a Catholic woman for this mystery poll or whatever? What determines that–age? Allegiance with the Pope? Are “women priests” (wooo scare quotes) Catholic women?

  • Martha

    Read the comments on this very site, Mollie :-)

    When I asked the same question (where the heck is this 98% figure coming from?), Thomas Szyszkiewicz kindly pointed me to this earlier post, where No. 8 in the comments, Bain Wellington, parsed the numbers from the Guttmacher report (which seems to be the ultimate source on contraceptive use by American women in recent years):

    “9] Among “current contraceptive users” who self-identify as Catholic, the report says 68% practised “highly effective methods” (viz. sterilisation, hormonal intervention, IUD), another 15% used condoms (implicitly not highly effective), 11% used no method at all, and 1% used one or other type of NFP; the balance relied on withdrawal or spermicides. Recall that even one instance of contraceptive use in the previous three months counts as “current contraceptive use” for the purposes of the report.”

    Turns out, the figure of sexually active, contraceptive using, self-identified Catholics is 84% (68+15). This means that whichever reporter it was who quoted an 83% (I think) figure actually had read the source documents, instead of just repeating the 98% figure that’s floating around.

    I have to say, one reporter out of how many? That’s not looking good for the free press on which we rely to give us accurate facts in order to maintain an objective check on the excesses of institutional power.

  • Will

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for substantiation of that “98%”. I remember the time some “advocate” asserted that “X% of our senior citizens are living on dog food.” Although I have not been able to frame a Google query that brings this up… the “statistic” was repeated endlessly without checking. When someone finally asked the original asserter where he got the figure from, he was surprised that he was even expected to substantiate it. Apparently it is OK to just pull “figures” out of the air in a good cause.

  • Martha

    And even on those figures, 68% using highly effective methods plus 15% using condoms plus 1% using NFP plus 5% using other methods equals 89%; 11% are sexually active, are not deliberately trying to become pregnant, but are still not using contraception.

    I can only imagine that somebody flipped around the 89% figure to be 98% (hey, I’m very nearly dyscalculic myself, I’ve done the likes of that before), because otherwise I have no idea where that came from (apart from plucking it out of the air, but surely professional reporters don’t do that kind of thing!)

  • Mollie

    Thank you, Martha. I am confused how you can be both a “current contraceptive user” and using “no method at all.”

    Anyone care to explain that to me?

  • Mollie


    Anyone have any theories as to why so much of the PRRI poll was devoted to Sharia?

    I figured that would pop out at folks more than anything.

  • Richard smith

    Quibbling about precise statistics is just clouding the issue. No one seems to dispute that Catholics use contraception to about the same extent as does the general population. And this is significant to the controversy because it indicates that the collective conscience of individual Catholics is not violated by the insurance mandate for contraceptive coverage. Catholics have by and large rejected the Church’s teaching on contraception and the bishops’ demand for special treatment would force the effect of the Church’s teaching onto workers (catholic and non-catholic) who don’t believe it. This is the very kind of thing the constitutional separation of church from state is intended to prevent.

  • Bain Wellington

    Mollie, I plead guilty to crafting a sloppy defined term.

    My point [9] (quoted by Martha above) uses a dumb shorthand for commenting on the analysis of contraceptive use/ non-use in the Report by Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke entitled Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use of April 2011 published by the Guttmacher Institute (download the 8 page pdf here). The Guttmacher Institute unashamedly professes that it is pro-contraception and pro-abortion (alongside unexceptionable and, indeed, worthy objectives) in its mission statement.

    My cock-eyed shorthand (“contraceptive user”) is explained at my point [7] and took wing from the Report’s “supplementary table to figure 3″ which is headed “Current contraceptive use among women at risk of unintended pregnancy by religious affiliation”.

    Whereas “contraceptive use” can comprehend non-use (hence the 11% using no method), my adapted term “contraceptive user” was misleading unless read with my point [7] where I defined the term; and it was counter-intuitive even so. It was intended to be shorthand for “the respondents whose responses were analysed in supplemental table to figure 3″, that is to say, for the sub-set of respondents who were “sexually active” (as defined in the Report) and “at risk of unintended pregnancy” (also as defined in the Report) who were, therefore, susceptible to contraceptive usage.

  • Bain Wellington

    I want to ask Richard Smith @8 how, if not by reference to statistics, does he feel able to assert:-

    Catholics have by and large rejected the Church’s teaching on contraception

    “Catholics”, “by and large” and “rejected” are all in need of clarification. Nor is the argument about “the collective conscience” of any identifiable group (even assuming the concept was a credible one). Freedom of religion is about individual as well as group rights.

    Also, the bishops are not demanding an exemption for themselves – churches and cathedrals are already exempt. The problem lies with Catholic schools and hospitals and other charitable institutions which are open to the general public.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    @Mollie #7 — it’s not too hard to figure out. For them, conservative Catholics and hard-core Muslims are religious zealots. Just look at the comments in the preliminary piece from the NY Times on Obama’s “compromise” — they’ll tell you. So lumping shari’a in with Catholic churches being forced to pay for contraceptives is all of a piece.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    @Richard smith #8 — Currently, many employers besides Catholic institutions do not provide contraceptive coverage. By your logic, that is forcing “the effect of the Church’s teaching onto workers,” even if that employer is not Catholic. Would you say these employers are violating the separation of church and state? And how much have the press covered those non-Catholics who also don’t provide that kind of coverage? That last question is easy to answer — none.

  • Martha

    Mollie, I assumed they were counting “Please, God, don’t let me get pregnant” as contraceptive use :-)

    Good job pointing that one out, which means that, as Bain clarifies, they are treating pregnancy as a kind of risk – “being susceptible to becoming pregnant” seems to me to be a clunky way of saying “fertile and sexually active”.

  • Richard smith

    Can you reference any credible statistical study indicating that most Catholics forego contraception in deference to Church teaching? Does it really matter whether non-compliance is 98% or just 80%? In any case, I know quite a few Catholics and, except for a priest, none of them follow the Church teaching on contraception.

    Anyone the Catholic Church considers Catholic, I count as Catholic.

    “By and large” means “most”, a significant majority.

    “Rejected” means “not accepted” as a teaching to be followed in practice.

    Freedom of religion as it relates to “group rights” must by definition mean a group with a belief commonly accepted by the group. Catholic bishops and a minority of Catholics may accept the Church’s teaching on contraception, but most self-identified Catholics do not. “Catholics” do not constitute a “group” with a common belief on the issue of contraception.

    It’s the bishops demanding the exemption, not the lay leaders of the hospitals, etc.

  • Richard smith


    The requirement that health insurance plans cover contraception becomes effective with policy years starting August, 2012 and will apply to all plans. Companies or institutions that aren’t covering contraception now then will be. Catholic institutions are not singled out for the mandate.

  • Mark Baddeley

    I’m always unclear with these debates when we’ve crossed the line into off-topic.

    Re: Richard smith

    Freedom of religion as it relates to “group rights” must by definition mean a group with a belief commonly accepted by the group.

    That definition, as I’ve pointed out in another thread, is itself a religious test that gives preference to those faiths whose identity is more democratically identified over those whose faith is more hierarchical. Neither Orthodoxy or the Catholic Church as religious institutions believe that you determine what orthodoxy for their members is simply by taking a poll of what the members happen to believe or practice. You’ve applied a religion test here that you’re not supposed to be doing.

    And your argument misses that there is a lot of opposition to this coming from liberal Catholics who feel betrayed by Obama because they defied their bishops and trusted Obama on Obamacare. The opposition isn’t just from bishops and a minority of Catholics. It’s becoming clear that this could alienate a lot of Catholics.

    Doesn’t that factor into whether this really is a conscience issue for Catholics even if most who identify themselves that way don’t practice what their bishops teach? They still want their Church’s right to give social care in line with its doctrines to be respected.

  • Bain Wellington

    Mollie, scrupulously back on thread (if I dare to critique another survey): last year PPRI and Brookings collaborated on a report into public attitudes to immigrants and Muslims in the USA ten years after 9/11 (45 page pdf for download). The base survey was conducted by PPRI in August 2011. E. J. Dionne, Jr. was one of the authors of the report on the Brookings side. The survey was conducted by telephone among 2,450 respondents and the margin or error was +/- 2 percentage points. The PPRI website has a factsheet walking the reader through the main questions and answers, including the questions you identify as (a) and (b).

    The survey you draw attention to was a follow-up tracking poll conducted by PPRI. Since it was conducted last week, they repeated questions (a) and (b), and added some extra questions that had nothing to do with the 2011 poll but which were suddenly topical (the HHS mandate and birth control for teens without parental consent). And the tail ended up wagging the dog.

    The PPRI news release discloses that this tracking poll was conducted among 1009 respondents with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The sample included 219 respondents who self-identified as Catholic, and the margin of error for this sample was +/- 6.5 percentage points.

    In the circumstances, so small a sample with so high a margin of error is an unsafe basis upon which to build one of PPRI’s conclusions:-

    A majority of Catholics (52%) say that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide coverage that includes contraception

    In other words, when extrapolating the responses of 219 self-identifying Catholics, that might mean 45.5% Catholics nationwide are in favour of the existing HHS mandate, or it might mean 58.5% are in favour. Or it might signify nothing at all.

    When journalists report on “national” polls, it can’t be that tedious to state the size of the sample and the margin of error, can it – especially when the alleged majority is well inside the margin of error?

  • Ann

    Mollie said

    Does this make you suspicious of certain polls? And isn’t it interesting that we even poll at all on questions of religious liberty? How does that affect news coverage? For instance, listening to NPR this morning, one got the idea that this issue should be decided based on how many Catholics use birth control. This makes no sense on any level.

    Most polls have questions that can result in unreliable results. Deciding based on how many Catholics use birth control could make sense if the results of Catholics or non-Catholics not being able to afford birth control increases the number of abortions or increasing the cost to taxpayers for pregnancies, childbirth, ongoing government support, increase in unhealthy children, etc.

    I would like to see a question about what people think, including Catholics, about Catholic leadership demanding that non-Catholic companies not be required to offer free birth control in health insurance coverage.

    USA Today

    The White House is “all talk, no action” on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular,” Picarello said. “We’re not going to do anything until this is fixed.”

    That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this.”

    “If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate,” Picarello said.

    “There’s no room for compromise on this. The mandate has to go,” said John Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and author of numerous books on the Catholic church. “There’s not much room for a conversation here.”

  • Richard smith


    At the risk of testing the margins of the topic, t need to be stressed that freedom of religion is first and foremost a freedom guaranteed to individuals. Even in heirarchical churches, the individual must have freedom to come or go as his individual conscience dictates. The freedom of groups accrues upwards from the individual, not downward from the heirarch. It’s not a violation of the heirarch’s religious freedom to deny him the right to impose his beliefs on others (though others are perfectly free to follow the heirarch voluntarily.)

    If, as you seem to suggest, Catholics are practicing contraception against their own conscience, or might be in favor of restricting access to contraception to others while practicing it themselves, then the best I can say is that they are acting in bad faith. Personally, I’d rather think they simply don’t concur with the Catholic teaching. Then in is up to the Catholic church decide whether or not they are “Catholic”…or not.

  • MikeD

    Ann, here is a link to what a female Catholic physician thinks about whether or not birth control qualifies as “preventive care” – which was the justification for the mandate for it being free from co-pay:

    I (also Catholic) don’t think contraception coverage should be provided free of co-pay. Is contraception more inportant than cancer treatment or antibiotics or the myriad other prescriptions have a co-pay but actually treat diseases?

  • Anne

    I wasn’t surprised to see that the female Catholic physician was a family doctor rather than a gynecologist, as she seems to be unaware of situations like mine. I’ve been on birth control since I was 12 because of multiple health problems, including ovarian cysts, that contraceptive medication can help prevent. Even the Catholic Church agrees that birth control is acceptable to use under circumstances like mine, but the policies they’re fighting for wouldn’t allow me (or others like me) to use it. And currently, I, like many other women, would be unable to afford my medicine without help from insurance. One of my biggest frustrations with this entire debate is the fact that people like me seem to have been rendered invisible by both sides.

  • Anne

    Also, the argument in favor of providing contraceptives without co-pay, but not other drugs like cancer treatment, is that taking contraceptives prevents other, much more expensive, medical needs down the road, saving everyone money in the end. That’s true whether you’re taking it to prevent pregnancy or for other medical needs.

  • MikeD

    Anne, people like you were discussed in many of the articles about the mandate. In fact, one of the first ones in the NYT discussed the use of contraceptions to treat medical conditions. If you read some of the other articles by that doctor I linked to earlier, you would find that she (and the Catholic Church) do not object to the use of oral contraceptives for either treatment of a current disease or prevention of a future disease. The Catholci Church has no objections to the appropriate use of hormonal therapies for medical conditions and should have no basis to object to insurance coverage in those situations. It might require physicians to code a diagnosis or prescription request differently, but that is not what this debate is about.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Hormonal therapies for medical conditions are not at issue–though pollsters and pro-Obamacare spokespersons keep fraudulently bringing it up.

  • Anne

    MikeD, I realize that people like me have occasionally been briefly mentioned, but at best usually as a short aside. And, as a Catholic, I already realize that the Catholic Church has no problems with my medicine as it is being used. The problem is that in many cases, women like me who work for Catholic institutions ARE unable to receive coverage for the medicine they need – even after the situation has been explained to all the relevant parties. Beyond that, while I personally have no problem being open about my medical condition, there are many women who are very uncomfortable discussing these issues – they are intensely personal and related to a very private part of the body. In addition, while the Catholic Church officially has no problem with the use of contraception in cases like mine, many individual priests (including some I’ve worked with) are unaware of that fact and are therefore personally opposed. Taking all of those issues together, the expectation that women must get some sort of approval from their church leaders before getting their medical care is deeply troubling.

  • Anne

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan, I am hardly a pollster or a fan of Obama. I would respectfully submit that you may not realize that it is an issue because you have never had to deal with it in your own life. From my personal experience and the experience of other women I know, I can tell you that it is a very real concern that has very real consequences. I’m not at all trying to suggest that Obama’s proposal is the only way to get around the issue, but I am saying that the situation, as it is, can make it extremely difficult for women like me to get the care that we need, even though official Catholic teaching does not object to our use of the medicine for these purposes.

  • MikeD

    Anne, what you discuss is part of the framing issue that GetReligion has been talking about. You are framing your personal medical issue as “women against the Church” and saying that is what the mandate was all about. Of course you approach it this way because of your personal experience, just as I approach the issue based on my legal background and keep wondering why news articles are lazy about the specific language of the exemption and how it relates to RFRA and existing religious freedom cases. There were so many articles that said “similar to mandates in 28 states” without going through the effot to analyze the actual language in eah of those other states to determine exactly how unsimilar it was. We all want the news to speak to us directly, but that is expecting too much.

  • Chris

    Mr. Smith (#8); Anyone making an argument based on statistics or data should care very much about both accuracy and precision. Sloppy use of numbers suggests that the rest of the argument is sloppy too. Journalists should care about accuracy, precision, and, yes, even referencing claims based on data and statistics. Their job is to inform, not develop an advertising campaign.

  • Anne

    MikeD, I think your statement is fair up to a point, and certainly it isn’t fair for me to expect every article to speak to my concerns. That said, I feel like most people are viewing the issue as “Churches opposed to birth control” vs. “Women who want to avoid pregnancy.” And that leaves out a major swath of women and their concerns. Also, for what it’s worth, I don’t consider my issue to be “women against the church” – many Catholic Church leaders have been incredibly supportive of me, as is official Church teaching. If anything, I’d consider it “women against people who don’t deal with these issues and therefore might not have thought to factor them into the equation.”

  • Julia


    The dilemma seems to be that the same hormonal compound that can treat your situation, maladies like acne or wildly irregular cycles like I experienced as a young woman is the same hormonal compound that is prescribed to prevent pregnancy. However, this hormonal compound is only called birth control.

    Why not package it differently, and give it a different trade mark name when the compound is to be used for medical reasons? The prescriptions would then not be for the same product.

    In the “pet” aisle at my grocery store, there are smallish dark yellow boxes of bicarbonate of soda with cat photos on the package to be used on the bottom of the kitty litter box to control odor. Four aisles over in the “baking needs” section, there are bigger dark yellow boxes of baking soda.

    They are actually the exact same contents. Why not do this with the hormone compounds at issue? Maybe this brou ha ha would convince at least one pharmaceutical company that there’s a real niche to be filled.

  • Anne

    Julia – if that solved the issue, I’d be quite happy with it as a compromise. I want to be clear that I’m in no way attempting to attack the Catholic Church’s (and others’) rights not to pay for medicine that they are morally opposed to. That’s just and reasonable in a democratic society. I’m just trying to point out that the current set-up blocks out people like me simply because we were unlucky enough to need the same medicine that others use for other reasons, and that needs to change. Unfortunately, it can’t until it becomes a bigger part of the discussion.

  • Mollie


    Please comment only on media coverage. This has gone way too far afield.

  • Julia

    Here is a line by line response from the USCCB to the White House website explanation of its original HHS position.

    It would behoove reporters to give it a look to better understand the bishops’ position.

    A sample:

    Claim:” Over half of Americans already live in the 28 States that require insurance companies cover contraception: Several of these States like North Carolina, New York, and California have identical religious employer exemptions. Some States like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all.”

    Response: This misleads by ignoring important facts, and some of it is simply false. All the state mandates, even those without religious exemptions, may be avoided by self-insuring prescription drug coverage, by dropping that particular coverage altogether, or by taking refuge in a federal law that pre-empts any state mandates (ERISA).None of these havens is available under the federal mandate. It is also false to claim that North Carolina has an identical exemption. It is broader: It does not require a religious organization to serve primarily people of its own faith, or to fulfill the federal rule’s narrow tax code criterion. Moreover, the North Carolina law, unlike the federal mandate, completely excludes abortifacient drugs like Ella and RU-486 as well as “emergency contraceptives” like Preven.

  • Will

    In any case, I know quite a few Catholics….

    Um, can you say “anecdotal”? I remember the story about the woman who said “I can’t understand how Nixon won the election, nobody I know voted for him”>

    …except for a priest, none of them follow the Church teaching on contraception.

    As opposed to priests who do not follow Catholic doctrine on contraception? I was under the impression there was more than that priests have to follow.

  • richard s

    Chris, Will

    The subject article and the first several posts seem to establish that available relevant statistics are imprecise at best and may sometimes be misrepresented at worst. Nevertheless, the statistics available, flawed as they may be, consistently suggest that a significant majority of sexually active Catholics practice contraception in proportion similar to the general population. I’m not aware of any statistics suggesting otherwise, and no one here has cited such. My conclusion that “most” Catholics “reject” the Church’s teaching on contraception (ie, they don’t believe it enough to follow it in practice), doesn’t depend on precise numbers, the conclusion is the same whether the proportion of contracepting Catholics is 70% or 80% or 98% or… (unless, of course, you can cite a credible but contradictory study, lacking the kinds of flaws inherent in the polling process as noted in the original article).
    Anecdotal evidence of course isn’t “proof” of anything. Still, experience consistent with statistical indicators may tend to define the reality. Dismissing my methodology as “sloppy” is just a comic diversion unless you can cite supportable and contrary conclusions.

  • Chris

    Mr. Smith:
    You said, “Quibbling about precise statistics is just clouding the issue.”
    I agree that the majority of sexually active Catholics practice contraception–assigning it a percentage, however, without attribution is sloppy. If the number quoted is not accurate (or you fail to indicate that it may not be accurate), the whole subsequent argument can appear is tainted. Why just not say, “the…majority of sexually active Catholics practice contraception.”?
    BTW, “precision” refers to reproducibility of a measurement. Accuracy is how close the measurement is to the “reality”.

  • Bill

    Polls and focus groups are often machines to manufacture baseball bats with which to club one’s opposition and win the support of the undecided. They look for the other guy’s vulnerability. How the picture is framed affects how the viewer sees it. Polls are used to determine which words, phrases and arguments carry the most clout. All the ads, PR, talking points and spin are adjusted. Whether women’s health is bigger bat than religious liberty remains to be seen. Polling numbers can make snappy headlines, but they have nothing to do with with religious doctrine. And nothing to do with religious liberty, either.

  • richard s


    And I deliberately didn’t assign a percentage to my original statement.

    BTW, my dictionary lists two noun uses for “precision”, the first being synonomous with “exactness” and “accuracy”; the second being reproducibility.

    My use of “precise” is as an adjective, alluding to a quality (the degree of exactness) of “statistics”.
    Context is everything.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    The question isn’t how many Catholics practice contraception, but how many contracepting Catholics practice their Faith. Polls that don’t control for Mass attendance are worthless measures of what Catholics believe or do.

    Or did I miss it?

    Polling “proves” that some high percentage of Catholics don’t believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist. I suspect that such polling could show the same of most, if not all, of the articles of the Nicene Creed. As long as being Catholic is defined in tribal terms, the result will always be that “Catholics” behave in line with the general culture. That should not be news.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Idiot me: the question is even how many practicing Catholics contracept. Catholic truth is not a matter of majority opinion. The stats are being used as a club against the Church to refute her position on contraception; they are, however, an excellent argument that her catechesis over the past generation is a failure. But no serious Catholic disputes that.

  • richard s

    Passing by,

    I don’t think you missed it, I don’t think it’s been established (at least not in this discussion) just how one identifies who is “Catholic”. The Church, as I understand it, counts anyone who has been baptized Catholic to be Catholic (accounting for between 1 and 2 billion living Catholics as I recall).

    But the Church also considers that a baptized person guilty of unconfessed/unreconciled mortal sin is not to receive communion. I can only assume that these persons are still “Catholic” but not “practicing”.

    With that understanding, a person regularly attending Mass and regularly contracepting would not be “practicing” their faith. Statistical presentations should, but only sometimes do, make it clear just which population is represented.

  • Passing By

    That is correct, as far as I understand. It’s the polemical, hence journalistic uses, that are problematic.

  • Dave S

    #26 Anne, He didn’t say wasn’t an issue he said it wasn’t AT issue. He wasn’t dismissing your condition, but saying that the church did not disagree that these drugs were appropriate under circumstances like yours. Sometimes we read these posts too quickly, perhaps.

  • BobbyJim

    #35 – “My conclusion that “most” Catholics “reject” the Church’s teaching on contraception (ie, they don’t believe it enough to follow it in practice), doesn’t depend on precise numbers, the conclusion is the same whether the proportion of contracepting Catholics is 70% or 80% or 98% or… (unless, of course, you can cite a credible but contradictory study, lacking the kinds of flaws inherent in the polling process as noted in the original article).”

    Maybe your conclusion that Catholics reject Church teaching is flawed. Maybe this only proves that Catholics sin….like me, and almost all other Christians. It also could further prove the Church needs to do a better job of teaching!

  • BobbyJim

    My contention is a poll showing how many people violate Church teaching is completely irrelevant to healthcare decisions. This is political red herring!

  • richard s

    The poll results haven’t been related to “healthcare decisions”, rather they have been related to the question of whether the bishops’ complaints about required contraceptive coverage in employee insurance are representative of the attitude of Catholics generally (as opposed to the bishops and the minority of Catholics who do obey the Church teaching on contraception).

  • BobbyJim

    @Richard please read: Lies, GetReligion – damned lies and 98 percent of Catholic women.

    “The poll results haven’t been related to “healthcare decisions””, yep, and I’m tinkerbell! As I said this is a poorly thought out political red herring!

  • BobbyJim

    Sorry, that should be: GetReligion – Lies, damned lies and 98 percent of Catholic women.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Adding sharia as a search term with PRRI and contraceptives, only this National Catholic Reporter article came up. The sharia question is clearly meant to poison the well. It is sad that so few are willing to point out the fact that this is a push poll that was intentionally made so that the results for people in favor of forcing relions to violate their principals and fund activities they object to would be high.

  • John Pack Lambert

    The most egregious part of the framing of this issue is that people are talking about it as if the Catholic Church is trying to force anyone to do anything. The question is not about allowing services, but whether religious groups should have to pay for services they object to. Also in the NYT it seemed many commenters had no clue of such things as that Amish are exempt from social security taxes.