Most Americans, Even Catholics, Say Birth Control Is Moral

A provision of the health care reform package will increase access to contraception.
A provision of the health care reform package is intended to increase access to contraception. (Image credit: Tomas Daliman, Shutterstock)

Despite recent political battles over contraception, the vast majority of Americans believe that birth control is morally okay, a new poll finds.

Eighty-nine percent of American adults say birth control is morally acceptable, according to a Gallup poll taken May 3 through May 6. Notably, 82 percent of Catholics are fine with birth control, the survey found. Catholic groups have been the most outspoken against the mandatory birth control coverage included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. (A 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use or have used unnatural birth control.)

The new finds are based on phone surveys with a random sample of 1,024 U.S. adults, weighted to represent the general American population. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Gauging morals

Gallup pollsters asked participants about the acceptability of a variety of behaviors. Birth control topped the list as the most morally acceptable, with only 8 percent of people calling contraception "morally wrong." The least acceptable behavior was married men and women having affairs, which only 7 percent of Americans said was okay. [Birth Control Quiz: Test Your Knowledge]

Divorce was deemed acceptable by 67 percent of Americans, and gambling was considered okay by 64 percent. Just over half, or 54 percent, said that gay and lesbian relationships were morally okay, the same number who approved of having a baby outside of marriage.

After affairs, human cloning and polygamy rounded out the least-accepted behaviors, with only 10 percent and 11 percent of Americans okaying those two issues, respectively.

Other hot-button issues included:

·      sex between unmarried men and women, deemed acceptable by 59 percent of people

·      the death penalty, deemed moral by 58 percent of people

·      abortion, deemed morally acceptable by 38 percent of people

·      pornography, deemed morally acceptable by 31 percent of people

Partisan differences

There was little partisan divide on the birth-control issue, with 87 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats calling contraception morally okay. Republicans and Democrats were also in step with one another on issues of animal and human cloning (most disapproved) and on marital affairs.

This cross-party unity did not extend to all issues, however. The biggest divides showed up on the issues of the death penalty, abortion and gay and lesbian relationships. Almost three-quarters, 73 percent, of Republicans said the death penalty was okay, compared with 42 percent of Democrats. Only 22 percent of Republicans approved of abortion, compared with 52 percent of Democrats. And only 36 percent of Republicans said gay and lesbian relationships were okay, compared with 66 percent of Democrats.

Americans' views of these moral issues have held study this year compared to last year, Gallup reported Tuesday (May 22). The only noticeable difference is a decline in the number of people saying the death penalty is okay, which is down from 65 percent last year. The 58 percent approval rating of the death penalty is the lowest in 12 years of responses to this question, according to Gallup.

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.