Birth Control Goes Against Catholicism’s Teachings, But Most Catholics Use It Anyway

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL

GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie revealed himself to be among the large majority of Catholics who use birth control, despite the fact that the Catholic hierarchy officially opposes artificial contraception, at a New Hampshire town hall meeting on Tuesday.

The New Jersey governor disclosed the personal detail after a town hall attendee cited religious arguments in favor of some progressive policies. According to Politico, the man quoted several verses of scripture that support environmental conservation and ending wars abroad. In response, Christie said that faith and politics should generally be kept separate.

“We should all acquit ourselves in a way that we believe is consistent with the teachings that we follow, if we follow certain teachings from a religious perspective,” Christie said. “Me for instance, I’m a Catholic, but I’ve used birth control, and not just the rhythm method, okay. So, you know, my church has a teaching against birth control. Does that make me an awful Catholic because I believed and practiced that function during part of my life? I don’t think so.”

The frank admission from Christie is in line with his fellow Catholics around the world, as religious people’s attitudes toward reproductive health continue to shift.

The only contraception method sanctioned by the Catholic Church is natural family planning (NFP) — a method of non-hormonal birth control that involves tracking a woman’s fertility through biological markers like taking her temperature, examining her cervical mucus, or counting the days between her menstrual cycle. NFP has about a 24 percent failure rate and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not recommend it for women who could be placed in medical danger by a pregnancy.

NFP isn’t very popular among the faithful. Only 2 percent of U.S. Catholic women of childbearing age actually use this method, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Meanwhile, according to a 2014 poll by Univision, 79 percent of Catholics around the world support the use of other forms of contraception. Previous polling has reported that 82 percent of American Catholics say birth control is “morally acceptable,” and 98 percent of U.S. Catholic women of childbearing age have used contraception at some point while they’ve been sexually active.

The widening gulf between the Catholic hierarchy and the Catholic laypeople is becoming especially pronounced in the ongoing controversy over Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, which Catholic-affiliated groups have fought bitterly against for the past several years.

In fact, Christie’s stance on birth control is similar to the position of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D), who is also Catholic. During political debates over Obamacare’s birth control coverage requirements, Pelosi defended the health law, emphasizing that the Catholic Church’s teaching on birth control “isn’t even accepted by the laity churchgoing people themselves.” At the time, right-wing outlets suggested that Pelosi was a bad Catholic, often putting her religious affiliation in scare quotes.