After several days of heated controversy, the White House is unveiling a new compromise on contraception coverage. The plan seeks to protect the religious liberty of institutions whose beliefs condemn contraception while still preserving access to birth control for employees of those institutions. Administration officials undoubtedly hope that their offer will calm Catholic bishops who voiced outrage about the original rule, but the controversy raises a broader question: How do lay Catholics feel about the Church’s teachings on this issue?
Polling data from Gallup suggests that the vast majority of American Catholics would like to see a change in the Church’s teachings. Now, throughout this debate, many have cited survey data indicating that nearly all American Catholic women have used birth control at some point, and most use it regularly. But the question of how Catholics behave is different from the question of what Catholics think the Church should teach. Even on this question, though, there seems to be broad consensus: A 2005 Gallup survey released after the death of Pope John Paul II showed that nearly eighty percent of American Catholics thought the next pope should allow the use of birth control. That doesn’t necessarily indicate that a similar proportion will support the White House’s stance, but it does suggest that many of the faithful in this country want to close the gap between teachings and behavior.