The election of Pope Francis on Wednesday has reignited the discussion about the future of the Catholic Church and whether it will address the ever-growing gap between doctrine and modern society. The cost of its intransigence is not simply a moral one; the church’s anti-contraception stance has a major economic impact for its 1.2 billion members, both in the developing world and the U.S.
As Jacqueline Nolley Echegaray of Catholics for Choice pointed out on Up w/ Chris Hayes on Saturday, the church’s restrictions on abortion, contraception, and its broader subjugation of women actually increases poverty–the very issue Francis dedicated himself to prior to his elevation. The UN Population Fund stated in its report The State of World Population 2012 that approximately 222 million women lacked sufficient access to contraceptives. It also found that greater financial investment in providing contraception to those who want it would save nearly $6 billion in health services costs. It also found that increased funding could cut maternal mortality by 30%.
Preventing unintended pregnancy and maternal and infant death are far from the only benefits. According to the CDC, nearly three quarters of the 2.5 million new HIV infections are in the developing world, a figure that could be slashed if there were even greater access to condoms. The World Health Organization’s most recent data states that women in Sub-Saharan Africa comprise 60% of those living with HIV.
Within the U.S., poor women were six times as likely as higher-income women to have an unintended pregnancy as of 2006. The birth control coverage guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act is intended to help reduce the cost of unintended pregnancies, which were estimated to add up to some $6 billion by a 2011 Brookings Institute study. This did not stop Catholic hospitals from fighting the law under the guise of religious liberty. These medical institutions remain free to deny care to women and risk severe punishment if they do not, as when the head of an Arizona hospital’s ethics board was excommunicated in 2010 for approving an abortion that saved a woman’ s life.
While it is extremely unlikely that the church is going to change its stances on social issues anytime soon, the number of Catholics agitating for a more modern approach continue to grow. “It’s about what is morally right,” Nolley Echegaray said.