Poll: Most say employers should be allowed not to cover contraception

The Obama administration is working on new guidelines for contraception coverage requirements following a heated controversy with religious institutions. Norah O'Donnell reports. CBS News

CBS News
(CBS News) A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows that most Americans believe there should be an exception for employers who may have a moral or religious objection to covering birth control for their employees.

According to the poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 adults nationwide from March 7-11, 51 percent of Americans believe employers of any kind should be allowed to opt out of covering birth control for religious or moral reasons. Forty percent say all employers should have to cover contraceptive care.

As part of the new health care law, the Obama administration is mandating that all employers cover contraception as part of their health insurance coverage, though religious institutions are exempted. Religiously-affiliated institutions such as schools and hospitals are also exempt, though under a compromise worked out by the administration following an uproar from religious leaders, employees of religiously-affiliated institutions will have access to contraception paid for directly by health insurance companies.

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When asked specifically about religiously-affiliated employers, 57 percent of Americans said they should be able to opt out of the mandate if they have religious or moral objections. Thirty-six percent said such organizations should have to cover birth control.

Democrats have tried to frame the debate as one about women's access to reproductive health, while Republicans have tried to make it about religious liberty. Earlier this month, the Senate struck down the Blunt amendment, a GOP-sponsored measure that would have enabled all employers - not just those affiliated with religious institutions - to opt out of the contraceptive care mandate due to religious or moral objections.

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A slight majority of Americans say the issue is about health care, not religious liberty.

Fifty-one percent of Americans say they think the issue is more about women's health and their rights than about religious freedom, while 37 percent say the opposite. Among those who say the issue is about women's health and rights, a strong majority (76 percent) say all employers should cover birth control. Among those who said the coverage issue was more about religious freedoms, a slim majority (53 percent) say all employers should be able to opt out.

In a CBS News/New York Times survey conducted last month, 61 percent of Americans said they supported federally-mandated contraception coverage for religiously-affiliated employers, while 31 percent said they opposed such coverage. In that poll, respondents were not questioned about whether or not employers should be able to opt out based on moral or religious objections.

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