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New Poll: Americans Oppose Using Religion to Deny Reproductive Health Services

October 25, 2012

A new poll, jointly commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union and Catholics for Choice, shows that Americans reject policies that allow institutions to refuse to provide reproductive health services on religious grounds. When asked about the general concept of such exemptions and about specific examples, large majorities of those polled opposed the denial of healthcare services and access to contraception.

Key findings include:

  • The great majority of Americans (81 percent) says, “The law should not allow companies or other institutions to use religious beliefs to decide whether to offer a service to some people and not others.”
  • Sixty-nine percent of Americans think it is wrong for a university to deny birth control coverage. An equal number of Catholics (68 percent) objects, although much of the opposition to this healthcare provision came from Catholic leaders. Seventy-seven percent of Americans, and an equal proportion of Catholics, object to pharmacies refusing to fill birth control prescriptions.
  • Eighty-seven percent of Americans (and a similar percentage of Catholics), say that a doctor should not be allowed to withhold information about fetal defects for fear a woman might consider an abortion. Sixty-eight percent of Americans, and 66 percent of Catholics, say it is wrong for a doctor to refuse to refer for an abortion.
  • Sixty-two percent of Americans and 59 percent of Catholics oppose allowing a Catholic hospital to decline to perform an abortion that is medically necessary to protect a woman’s health.
  • Eighty-eight percent of Americans and 86 percent of Catholics believe voters don’t have an obligation to follow a Catholic bishop’s recommendation on how to vote. Seventy-nine percent of Americans and 75 percent of Catholics believe Catholic politicians don’t have an obligation to follow the hierarchy’s directives.

John Russonello, a partner at Belden Russonello Strategists LLC who carried out the poll, said, “The survey makes it clear that most Americans believe that a person in a health-related field should not be allowed to deny a service because of his or her religious beliefs. In effect, the fear of harming someone is stronger than the desire to give people the freedom to act on their personal religious beliefs. It also should put an end to the discussion of how much political influence the Catholic bishops have among their flock. This survey demonstrates overwhelmingly that American Catholics do not feel any obligation to follow the bishops on politics.”

Sara Hutchinson, domestic program director at Catholics for Choice, said, “This poll comes at an important time as the bishops ramp up their opposition to contraceptive coverage. It shows the rift between what the bishops would like all of us to think and what Americans and American Catholics actually think, as well as what we truly want and how we will vote on these issues.”

Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, noted, “We absolutely support the right of religious freedom, but the right to free exercise in America does not mean the right to impose your views on others. We can no more tolerate efforts to use religion to discriminate when it comes to issues like the current fight over contraception, than we could when religion was unsuccessfully used as an excuse to resist integration during the civil rights movement.”

“The National Council of Jewish Women believes the protection of women’s access to the full range of reproductive health services is a moral imperative, critical to ensuring that women are able to make their own personal decisions in the context of their own religious beliefs or tradition. The polls shows that the public agrees with this belief and, as a minority religion in America, our religious rights will also be protected as will women’s access to all health services,” said Nancy K. Kaufman, CEO. “We have long supported comprehensive, confidential, accessible family planning and reproductive health services, regardless of age or ability to pay, because we believe that these services are an essential element of good health care.”

Belden Russonello Strategists carried out a nationally representative landline and cell phone survey of 1,003 Americans from September 12 to 26, 2012.