The Washington Post

Americans are really confused about whether they like the Supreme Court’s birth control decision

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg )

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that "closely held" companies with religious owners cannot be required to provide their employees with birth control if they have religious objections to it.

Do the American people agree?

Well, no. And yes.

Contraception is one of those issues on which you can get vastly different opinions from the American people just by asking the question in a slightly different way. And in fact, one single media outlet has run the gamut just by itself.

When the issue of requiring employers to cover birth control first started popping up, it seemed the American people were largely on board.

Polls from CBS News/New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation in February 2012 both showed about two-thirds (66 percent) of the American people agreed with such a requirement. A Washington Post/ABC News poll showed a similar result, with 61 percent in favor.

Here's the CBS/NYT poll question:


None of those questions, however, mentioned religion. And that's where things get more complicated.

A March 2014 poll, again from CBS News, showed that 42 percent of Americans said employers could be exempt from this requirement "based on religious objections," while 51 percent said they should still have to cover contraception. Not as overwhelming.


But when a third poll from CBS and the New York Times asked the same question in March 2012, they got quite a different results.

Back then, the question was whether employers should be "allowed to opt out of covering (the full cost of birth control) based on religious or moral objections?" In that case, just 40 percent approved of the mandate, while 51 percent said those employers should be able to opt out.


Three polls — all sponsored by CBS — show support for a contraception mandate ranging from 40 percent all the way to 66 percent.

So what does that mean?

It suggests that Americans' opinions on the topic are quite malleable and — by extension — pretty soft. If Americans can offer such different responses based on just a few words being changed in the question, they probably don't feel all that strongly about the issue or haven't really paid attention.

That doesn't mean that there aren't people who feel very strongly. It just means they they are probably in the minority.

Which means today's Supreme Court ruling is probably a lot more about precedent and legal wrangling than about the 2014 election.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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Aaron Blake · June 30, 2014

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