Lydia McGrew has done an excellent service by tracking down and reading the study behind the Obama administration’s “98% of Catholic women use contraception” myth.
She points out that the Guttmacher study that myth is based on says no such thing.
The organization Politifact has made the myth worse by reading the study and trying to give the administration cover. Politifact takes out of context a line about Catholics who have ever used contraception. But that’s not supported by the study’s research.
Here is the key graph in the study the administration was talking about:
First, this survey suffers from what I call the “Nonsmokers smoke Marlboros” problem. At the top of a survey, ask: “Are you a smoker or a nonsmoker?” and lots of people who smoke will self-identify as “nonsmokers.” Later, ask, “What brand of cigarettes do you smoke?” and they will say, “Definitely Marlboro Lights!” Ergo, nonsmokers smoke Marlboros.
The results are even more skewed if you ask people at the top of a survey what religion they are. People who have never darkened the door of a Catholic Church will happily mark “Catholic” on such a survey. The behavior they report will count for or against Catholics the same regardless of their actual contact with Catholicism.
This particular survey even admits that less than a third of its “Catholic” respondents even go to Mass once a week.
So, what do we know from the start: We aren’t dealing with practicing Catholics. In fact, a two-thirds majority of the Catholics in the survey are not eligible to receive communion, according to the U.S. bishops (see page 9), since they skip their Sunday obligation.
McGrew directs us to more problems, in the asterisk at the bottom. There we learn that the survey is: “Restricted to sexually active women who are not pregnant, post-partum, or trying to get pregnant.”
So think of who would be included and excluded from this study:
- Included: Unmarried teens and young women who sleep with their boyfriends.
- Excluded: Unmarried teens and young women who follow the Church’s teaching on chastity.
- Included: Married women who are actively avoiding pregnancy.
- Excluded: Married women who are not particularly watching whether they get pregnant or not.
- Included: Promiscuous party girls.
- Excluded: Nuns.
No wonder so many of them are using contraception! But the funny thing is, even once you include mostly lapsed Catholics and eliminate anyone who might mess up your number, it still isn’t true to say 98% are using contraception.
They got that by subtracting the 2% of NFP users in their chart from the 100% of respondents. But look at the chart. It says 11% are using “no method.” By my math, it should be at least 13% not using contraception.
Update: I have been in touch with Politifact (thanks especially to an attentive reader), and Politifact has been in touch with Guttmacher. They promise to send research that is not included in the original report which supports the assertion that “98% [of] sexually experienced Catholic women” “have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning.” The public has not seen this research. There are lots of questions to be answered, and I want to see the research, including who is included and excluded, and not just a dressed up version of the original assertion.
And the most shocking news remains that the White House is spreading unsubstantiated information about Catholicism in order to provide cover as it removes religious liberties for Catholic organizations.
White House: Retract this statement and correct the record. Stop misinforming the public about my religion for your purposes.
Update 2: Lydia McGrew has an update on the situation … and the White House deserves some credit if this was an intentional backing away from the claim.
Update 3: After Nancy Pelosi and others continue to say “98% of Catholic women use birth control,” the Washington Post debunks the number.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.