A recent Atlantic article used fatally flawed data to misrepresent Catholic women’s support of the contraception mandate.
According to author Patricia Miller, debate over the Affordable Care Act has mischaracterized women’s healthcare interests. Miller cites a study led by Elizabeth Patton of the University of Michigan to assert that, although a small cohort of Catholic leaders may oppose contraception and abortion, Catholic women are very supportive. There is just one problem: Patton’s study relies on a disastrously biased sample of Catholics.
According to Ms. Patton’s breakdown of religious service attendance by religious affiliation, zero percent—not one—of the surveyed Catholic women attend Mass weekly. It hardly takes an experienced demographer to realize that Patton’s sample does not accurately represent the Catholic population. A central component of Catholicism includes weekly celebration of the Eucharist, which means going to Mass. However, 190 of the 198 Catholics Patton queried disregard this core tenet of their Faith. (Eight women surveyed were found to attend Mass more than once a week.) Patton’s 190 women do not represent how practicing Catholic women feel; rather, they represent how women indifferent to the Catholic Faith feel.
So, Patton’s survey essentially interviews Catholic women who are apathetic to their Faith. It is not surprising that this class of Catholics (“nominal” Catholics?) is apathetic to whether their Church is forced to provision abortifacients and contraceptives. Sociologically relevant studies would rather measure how the average Catholic—indifferent or not to her Faith—feels about the mandate. Such unbiased data would represent Catholic women and more honestly shape public debate.
According to a Pew study, 63 percent of weekly church-going Catholics – men and women – believe religiously affiliated institutions should be exempted from the HHS Mandate. (Only 25 percent say their Church should be required to cover contraceptives; 11 percent respond “Other/ Don’t Know.”) Importantly, 48 percent of Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly (about half of those Catholics) still oppose mandated coverage. Scientifically sound data indicates that the majority of Catholics do, indeed, oppose the contraception mandate. (This majority feeling is the averaged feeling of all Catholics, indifferent or not to their Faith.)
Patricia Miller’s conclusion that Catholic women support contraception coverage, and that only Catholic pundits oppose it, cannot be held. Ms. Miller has made a career on asserting that “good Catholics” (her phrase) can support contraception and abortion despite the Church’s teaching. Unfortunately for her assertions, the data show the opposite: It is the most lax, the most cherry-picked, Catholics that agree with her.