The American public is narrowly divided over an Obama administration mandate on contraception coverage in employer health plans that had initially applied to all religiously affiliated groups, according to a new Pew Research Center study.
Among the 62 percent of Americans who have heard about the mandate, 48 percent said they support an exemption for religiously affiliated institutions if they object to the use of contraceptives, the survey found. Forty-four percent said the groups should be required to cover contraceptives like other employers.
Acknowledging the contentious divide, Obama announced Friday that the administration would attempt to accommodate concerns on both sides of the issue by allowing some religiously affiliated groups to refrain from any direct role in providing contraception to employees - a practice many of the groups had deeply protested being required to perform.
Opposition to the mandate without a broader exemption for those with moral objections is strongest among religious Americans, according to Pew. Fifty-five percent of Catholics who have heard at least a little about the issue favor an exemption, while 39 percent were opposed, the study found.
White evangelical Protestants favored an exemption for religiously affiliated employers by a 68 percent to 22 percent margin, while white mainline Protestants were more evenly divided, 44 percent favoring an exemption and 46 percent opposed.
A majority of religiously unaffiliated Americans supported Obama in requiring contraceptive coverage of all employers.
The survey, conducted Feb. 8-12, offers the first snapshot of public opinion in the wake of the recent debate between the Obama administration, the Catholic Church and women's groups over the contraception coverage mandate. The margin of error for all Americans is plus or minus 3 percentage points; among the individual religious groups it is 6.5 percentage points.