News Release

Obama Contraception Compromise: Barrier to Access, Fostering Unequal Attitudes

STEPHANIE SEGUINO, sseguino at uvm.edu
Seguino is professor of economics at the University of Vermont. She recently wrote “Help or Hindrance? Religion’s Impact on Gender Inequality in Attitudes and Outcomes.”

She said today: “In response to Obama’s compromise, I agree with the president that ‘Women deserve to have this preventative health care.’ It is not clear, however, that employees of Catholic organizations that do not provide contraceptive coverage will have ‘the same access and the same affordability.’ The information and time required to access contraceptive care for such employees may well impose a barrier to access.

“The more important issue in my view is that this enables a greater role for religious organizations to play in public policy and access to resources for women. In so doing, we are undermining progress toward gender equality. My research and that of others shows that religiosity contributes to gender-unequal attitudes. Perhaps more surprising is the research that shows that those gender unequal attitudes influence public policy and women’s well-being. A study I recently published shows that the more religious a country, the greater the degree of gender inequality. Women experience greater inequality, as a result, in access to jobs, in education, in maternal mortality, and in the share of professional and technical jobs. It is not hard to see how reducing women’s access to contraception, as this compromise does, can worsen gender inequality in the U.S. — already higher than in many industrialized countries. Studies show that women’s access to contraception improves their health by reducing pregnancy-related deaths. It also has been linked to a reduction in abortions. It has been found to improve women’s abilities to get more education and to generate income for their families.

“Sexual and reproductive health increases with access to contraception. These are major components of the efforts to promote gender equality.

“That religious organizations can therefore extend their own values on women’s appropriate roles into the public policy world with real, palpable negative effects for women suggests a real conflict. The debate about this should be on those terms. Religious ‘freedom’ for some can contribute to economic deprivation for large numbers of women — particularly those who are poor and those who are young.”

Regarding Obama’s claim that there would not be a barrier to access under his proposal, Seguino added: “By making it harder for women who work for Catholic organizations to access contraceptive insurance (researching to find the name of the insurer, taking the time to make the arrangement), access is constrained. This may seem trivial to some, but for women juggling many household responsibilities and stresses, this is a significant impediment. For young women not knowledgeable about insurance practices, this is even more of a barrier. Moreover, we do not know what the impact will be on the work climate, on social norms about using contraception, and whether women in these workplaces will feel pressured to not avail themselves of insurance for fear of the impact on their job. These are unknowns, but it is safe to say that access is made more difficult than if contraceptive care were part of the insurance package Catholic organizations provide.”