By Emily Ostertag
Elizabeth W. Patton conducted a recent study claiming to show that many religious women (particularly Catholics) do not agree with the religious objections to the Affordable Care Act’s HHS mandate. Writing in The Atlantic, abortion-rights champion Patricia Miller uses this study to argue that “real” religious women don’t agree with, for example, the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that has been vocal in opposing the mandate. Miller clearly hopes to show that Catholic women’s views on this issue do not line up with the views of the Catholic Church, and that the Church’s intentions do not represent what Catholic women want or what is best for them.
To find the biggest problem with Miller’s claims, one need look no further than the group surveyed for the study. Only 17% of those surveyed were Catholic; the percentage of the United States population that is Catholic is 24%. Furthermore, in the United States, 40-45% of Catholics say they attend church every Sunday. However, of the women polled for the study, 4% attend church more than once a week, 17% attend once or twice a month, 59% attend once a year, a few times a year or never, and NONE of the women surveyed attend church once a week (the standard requirement for Catholics).
In short, the women in the study do not accurately represent the population of Catholic women in the United States. Miller makes many false assumptions about Catholic women by taking these women to be their representatives.
Ultimately, the debate is one that concerns women’s freedom. The Catholic Church is an institution that follows a set of principles. Some feel that they can pick which teachings they want to abide by and which ones they want to ignore. As a practicing Catholic, I believe these people are missing out on one of the most integral aspects of Catholicism. I do not deny the difficulty, at times, of living by the Church’s teachings in today’s world, in which we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us to live otherwise. However, I believe that having a clear, detailed set of rules by which to live is not something to be viewed as constricting, but rather, as freeing. We are faced with moral questions big and small every day. Everyone has to make choices in life, but with an ideal of how to live available, those choices become more clear.
Miller’s article claims that “it’s largely the leadership of the Catholic and conservative Christian denominations, as well as rank-and-file Christians who belong to these denominations, who oppose the mandate, not Catholics themselves.” If Patton is truly interested, however, in “policies that are meaningful for women,” ignoring the Catholic women who do indeed strive to follow the teachings of the church is no better an approach.
Emily Ostertag is a New York City native who graduated from Columbia University in 2013 with a B.A. in music and psychology. She now works in sales and marketing for a record label.