LDS Church and the Birth Control Controversy

“Can someone tell me why insurance plans at LDS-owned institutions do not provide coverage for birth control?” asked Kristine Haglund, a prominent LDS blogger and editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. “Last time I checked, our theology and official church policy statements would not support an exclusion.”

In an election year that was supposed to be about jobs, conservative religious leaders have drummed up outrage over the Obama administration’s requirements for employer health plans to cover birth control. We’ve heard from Catholics and evangelicals, but what of the LDS Church?

Church policy supports all methods of contraception except surgical sterilization. Birth control is widely used and accepted among LDS Church members (as it is among Catholics and evangelicals). Church-owned Brigham Young University’s student health center offers premarital health classes that present a range of birth control options, and affordable contraception is dispensed at the on-site pharmacy.

Deseret Mutual Benefit Association (DMBA), however, a nonprofit corporation that provides health and other benefits to employees of the LDS Church and its affiliates (including Brigham Young University), lists among its exclusions “family planning, including contraception, birth control devices, and/or sterilization procedures,” unless the patient meets narrow criteria.

LDS Church officials have not weighed in on the Obama contraception coverage regulation, but many conservative Mormons are viewing the move through the lens of recent statements by LDS Church leaders highlighting the protection of “religious freedom” as a serious concern.

The contraception coverage controversy is taking on symbolic proportion as a battle between worldviews: one is driven by the religious conservative narrative of a secular “war on religion,” and the other centers around the lived realities of middle-class families trying to maintain an ever-more-precarious hold on work and family. As one priest put it: “...I see it every week at the Masses I celebrate at large suburban parishes…each one of those couples has 2.5 kids…”

And that, as Andrew Sullivan observed, may be the genius of the Obama policy. If, by moving birth control to the center of the national conversation, Obama succeeds in turning the presidential election into a battle over social conservative “values,” that’s bad news for Mitt Romney, good news for Rick Santorum and—in country where vast majorities (including Catholics and Mormons) still take contraception for granted as a human right—for Obama’s re-election campaign as well.