Have 98% of Catholic women really used contraceptives?

Um, no. 


The WaPo explains: 

Lydia McGrew questions whether 98 percent of Catholic women have actually used contraceptives, a figure that became ubiquitous in last week’s birth control debate. She parses the research behind the stat, which comes from a 2011 Guttmacher Institute study:

The survey was limited to women between 15-44. Ah, well, that explains how we weren’t including the elderly, but it also means that the silly “percent of all Catholic women” thing should be chucked out right from the beginning. More strikingly…it excluded any women who were a) not sexually active, where that is defined as having had sexual intercourse in the past three months (there go all the nuns), b) postpartum, c) pregnant, or d) trying to get pregnant! In other words, the study was specifically designed to include only women for whom a pregnancy would be unintended and who are “at risk” of becoming pregnant…a statistic based on a study that explicitly excluded those who have no use for contraception is obviously irrelevant to a question about the percentage of Catholic women who have a use for contraception.

I called up Rachel Jones, the lead author of this study, to have her walk me through the research. She agrees that her study results do not speak to all Catholic women. Rather, they speak to a specific demographic: women between 15- and 44-years-old, who have been sexually active and who are not attempting to become pregnant.

“If we had included women up to age 89, we would have probably found a lower proportion had ever used artificial contraception,” said Jones. “But the policies being implemented right now are ones that don’t effect them. Right here and now, we’ve got 98 percent who have ever used a contraceptive method, who are not attempting to get pregnant. Those are who will be impacted by this.”

Jones’s study does not find that 98 percent of all Catholic women have used contraceptives. What it does, however, bear out is the claim that many have made with this statistic: that sexually-active, Catholic women do tend to use contraceptives at the same rate as their non-Catholic counterparts. On that front, Jones looked at women who had been sexually active within the past three months. You can see the results of that question in the chart above, where contraceptive use of Catholics look virtually identical to those of all women.

Check the link for more.


  1. Of course, the President will offer an apology for misstating the facts.

  2. joe mc faul says:

    “What it does, however, bear out is the claim that many have made with this statistic: that sexually-active, Catholic women do tend to use contraceptives at the same rate as their non-Catholic counterparts.”

    I think that’s the unsurprising point being made by those who cite to the study. The study seems to confirm popular wisdom.

  3. Bishop Dolan now knows what I discovered four years ago- during the Democrat primaries I saw Obama’s eyebrows and they woke me up, my goodness, what we have here is a black Nixon- someone who is not to be trusted.

  4. Check your facts. The President has never cited this figure.

  5. Has there ever been a study done on how many Catholic men have used or participated in the use of contraception? Has there ever been a study on how many Catholic men have used interruption as a means of birth control?

  6. Ah yes: Lies. Damned Lies. And Statistics.

  7. pagansister says:

    Excellent question!

  8. pagansister says:

    Meant to add an “s”. Questions.

  9. pagansister says:

    IMO, the age groups that was asked made sense, 15 to 44 (however I might have extended it to 54—many menopause babies have been born), as did the exclusions—trying to get pregnant, postpartum, etc. Still shows that Catholic women use birth control—-against the Churche’s rules.

  10. a statistic based on a study that explicitly excluded those who have no use for contraception is obviously irrelevant to a question about the percentage of Catholic women who have a use for contraception.

    Obviously is doing a lot of work here. There is no theory proffered for why women outside the pool would answer significantly differently than those in the pool, except for nuns, a population that isn’t statistically significant. This is just one stop removed from the complaint that they didn’t poll everyone so the result isn’t representative.

  11. “Tu quoque” isn’t an argument.

  12. MZ wants a theory. How’s this: The poll is skewed from the get-go, because:

    It includes only women willing to disclose their sex lives to a stranger; and
    It ignores the fact that people modify their behavior as they age.

    MZ, it’s asking a lot to suppose that women deselected from the survey because they’re celibate would contracept in like numbers if they were sexually active. Those remaining celibate for a moral reason are precisely those who’d be more likely to eschew contraception.

  13. Elizabeth S says:

    I’m still a little confused, probably because the people doing the citing are confused as well. Is the point supposed to be that 98% of Catholic women have used contraceptives at some point, or that 98% of Catholic women of an age and status to need birth control are using it? If at some point I get married and had a typical married life I could be counted as a Catholic woman who had used “birth control” and was sexually active, because I took “birth control pills” for a little while to see if they could help some of my hormonal issues. I put “birth control pills” in quotes because while that’s what they’re commonly called, I obviously never took them for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy as I was and still am abstinent. The graph on the WaPo article shows natural family planning listed as an option, which of course the church doesn’t object to. There needs to be a study asking how many Catholic woman used contraceptives for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy, and whether they were active, practicing Catholics at the time they used contraception. When people say 98% of Catholic women have used contraceptives, they never clarify if those women were Catholic at the time of use, if they were using contraceptives for reasons other than pregnancy prevention, or if they were active in their Catholic faith.

  14. How many women would actually answer that question anyway?

  15. Yes, these are crucial questions for our understanding of the issues.

  16. That might be fine if the study was “Sexually Active Catholic Women of Child Bearing Age that have taken Contraception.” But the study was Catholic Women who have ever taken Contraception. It is a subtle difference but I am sure that stat would be drastically different if those numbers were added in.

  17. How many women would actually answer that question anyway?

    That is a methodological issue with any study. Raising questions takes no heroic effort. These questions though are more akin to what if a jet engine miraculously appears on a falling bowling ball, causing it to go up rather than down. Anyone impressed with the questions is predisposed to dismissing the study.

  18. Pagansister: it looks like RomCath agrees with us. Will wonders never cease.

  19. I hope you realize I was being facetious. The feminism screams out again. Sad.

  20. What do we mean by “Catholic women”–baptized Catholic who haven’t been to Church since confirmation, regular Sunday mass attendees, Easter/Christmas??? The poll is ridiculous and I am sure the percentage is much lower for regular Mass going faithful Catholics not the Pelosi/Sebelius ilk.

  21. pagansister says:

    Why wouldn’t a woman answer, RomCath? I would be surprised if this poll wasn’t anonymous and being anonymous why wouldn’t a woman answer honestly? Would be no problem.

  22. pagansister says:

    You must have known that was too good to be true, Barbara P. :o)

  23. I have a huge concern. These stats are being used to tell me to not follow the Church’s teachings on birth control. I’ve seen reasoning lately that says since most Catholic women don’t follow this Church teaching, forcing those of us who do follow it to act against it is no big deal. There’s also the mindset that since most Catholic women don’t follow this, the Church itself doesn’t have the right to refuse involvement in birth control, etc. I’m not saying Deacon Gregg is doing this, but many in the media, as well as people I know personally. Catholic women have told me my right to refuse any involvement in the birth control industry isn’t a big deal since they use the pill. “Pro-choice” women have told me I don’t have the right to refuse health insurance with birth control, and neither does my employer. I guess they are not as pro-choice as they would like us to believe.

    It doesn’t matter how many Catholic women follow this. (Well, it does matter. It just doesn’t matter in relation to the HHS mandate.) What matters is that we have the right to follow this teaching. I’ve known Jewish people who choose to eat pork. That doesn’t give anyone the right to force other Jewish people to take part in the pork industry – either by eating ham sandwiches or by buying ham sandwiches for someone else.

  24. Oh well pagansister :). RomCath – I am blessed that God made me a strong woman and thankful for what you call feminism – it allowed me to make enough money to raise two children with disabilities and provide them comfortable lives and excellent education.

  25. Anonymous or not, most women, at least the ones I know, would not be comfortable talking about something so personal.

  26. pagansister says:

    The question of whether one uses contraceptives is personal? Guess for some women it would be, RomCath. For some women it is just another topic that women talk about when they get together, no different than receipts, latest trends in exercises, men in general, movies, feminine products, etc. etc. etc.

  27. The numbers matter a great deal in one respect. True, the bishops can assert opposition to the mandate based simply on principle of free exercise doctrine. To the extent that they ground the credibility of their argument in numbers, the numbers do indeed matter.

    The bishops, and their core supporters of conservative Catholics have, shrewdly, tried to cast this issue as one that outrages all or most ordinary Catholics. We can all agree that in the arena of public opinion at least, people who speak for tens of millions carry more weight than those who speak for tens or hundreds of thousands. It is clear that the bishops are not speaking for the vast majority of rank and file women Catholics, at least, on this matter.

    We can quibble this way or that about whether the figure is 98% or less, or the sampling bias, or whatever, but there is no credible evidence anywhere to suggest that most American Catholics adhere to official teachings on artificial contraception. That may not have any bearing on the validity of the doctrine, but it matters a great deal as we (and Obama), count votes. Now it should also be said that Catholic women who use contraception are not necessarily hypocrites if they oppose a mandate. They might well oppose government mandates in principle as libertarians etc. or feel that no one should have to subsidize something against their conscience. That said, what the bishops cannot (credibly) do is to assert that contraception use is deeply abhorrent to the average Catholic or Catholic voter in this country.

  28. You’re either not American, or your circle of friends has some unusually old fashioned and genteel women. There is nothing people WON’T talk about these days, even on live TV! There’s nothing people won’t film and post online for that matter. I’ve had people in the porn industry tell me the business is struggling financially not only because of piracy but because so many ordinary people do everything imaginable and post it for free! Given that dynamic, it’s hard to believe any polling organization would have any real trouble getting anonymous women to answer a few personal questions about contraception.

  29. pagansister says:

    But IMO, RomCath, it is good that there are some of the Pelosi/Sebelius women among today’s Catholic women. Whether they are “good” Catholics or not I don’t think should be judged by others. A person’s relationship with God is personal. IMO, it doesn’t have to be shown to others constantly—attending a house of worship in oder to show others their degree of devotion.

  30. No birth control, four abortions.

  31. Isn’t the Guttmacher Institute, which ran the study, an arm of Planned Parenthood? Under those circumstances, why in heaven’s name would anyone trust this report?

    C’mon media — do your job! C’mon people — don’t trust everything you read in NYT/WaPo/HuffPost, etc. !

  32. WomanAtTheWell says:

    It is obviously not “too personal” for a group of celibate men to discuss!

  33. WomanAtTheWell says:

    hannajo – NO ONE is FORCING you to do anything! Statistics can never “tell me not to follow the church”. How can a number, a poll, make a choice for you? Regardless of what others do, you make your own choices!

  34. WomanAtTheWell says:

    “included women up to age 89″ ???
    Women of that age have NO NEED for contraceptives….this issue DOES NOT APPLY to them!

    Where is the common sense?? Women who do NOT want to get pregnant are the ones using contraceptives. It makes NO SENSE to look at whether women who are pregnant/trying, post-menopause, not sexually active….use contraceptives!! How silly!!
    That would be like looking at how many NON-smokers use nicotine gum or patches!! How silly!!

  35. We are all 100% sinners, yet this fact does not excuse sin. This number game to try to justify contraception is not relevant to what is at stake with the HHS mandate. That a high number of Catholics are using contraception only speaks to the fact of how deep has the contraceptive mentality of the Culture of Death penetrated into the life of people.

  36. Very good, WomanAtTheWell! :o) Thanks!

  37. Manny, are you saying that you approve of ABC, because it could stop perhaps 4 abortions? That is encouraging. The whole point of NFP and ABC is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, thus the chances of an abortion are lessened which is always good. :o)

  38. Ulitimately, hannajo, the woman makes her own decision on what she does—no one else. No one can, as said above by WATW, force you to do anything.

  39. It has occured to me that there are fewer Catholic families that have 6 or more children these days—and I can’t believe that NFP is so reliable that this is the only prevention used! The Catholic school I taught in had one family with 8 children, and they had to stop attending because the family couldn’t pay the tuition. The only other family with more than 4 had 5. I can’t believe that those women were not using ABC.


  41. What I was trying to say, but was inarticulate, was that this is leading to tyranny of the majority. I’ve had people push these statistics in my face, as if somehow it should make a difference as to how I practice my faith. They try to make the case that since most Catholics don’t follow these teachings, the rights of those of us who do are less worthy of protecting.

  42. I probably haven’t been following what the bishops have been saying closely enough. If that’s the angle they’re using, it’s a pretty poor one. But we all need to speak out in favor of religious freedom, not just the bishops – who currently have a huge credibility issue regarding sexual morality. If it is only the bishops fighting and speaking out, I don’t see my religious liberty remaining intact.

  43. Only *sexually active* women in their child-bearing years who don’t want get to pregnant need contraceptives or NFP. The statistic doesn’t count women who aren’t sexually active *as their method of not getting pregnant* at all.

    So yes, the numbers are skewed because they don’t count what is probably the most common non-contraceptive method of avoiding pregnancy used by women during their reproductive years.

    The comparison is not to a study on nicotine patches only limited to smokers. It’s more like a study on “Methods used to stop smoking” limited to smokers who buy a product to stop smoking and then interpreting the results to show that no one stops smoking without buying something.

    For example, take the age range of 15-19 years old. All of the following is taken from “Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth”, which was referenced from the Guttmacher Institute site here: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-ATSRH.html and which is freely available here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_031.pdf

    According to Table 1, 43% of never-married teenaged females had experienced sexual intercourse at least once, which means that 57% have not. According to the same survey (page 5), 1.1% of females had ever been married, so the percentage of women 15-19 that have not had sex should be reduced somewhat to 55.9%

    The top three reasons given by women in this age group for not having sex (page 11) were:
    against religion or morals: 41%
    haven’t found the right person yet: 19%
    don’t want to get pregnant: 18%

    So 59% of that 55.9% who are abstinent are doing it specifically for moral reasons (which I presume, correctly or not, includes avoiding pregnancy outside of marriage) or specifically to avoid pregnancy.

    So in the age group of 15-19 year olds, approx 33% of women are choosing abstinence to avoid pregnancy, and none of them are counted in the 98%. To get a more accurate accurate figure, you’d need to do the same thing for all the age groups.

  44. Not true, pagansister. Apparently, if this goes through, they can make me pay for someone else’s contraceptive or sterilization.

  45. Filiaecclesia says:

    I think citing the supposed number of Catholic women who have used contraceptives is a sly and disingenuous rhetorical trick. It is intended to muddy the waters of the debate. It has nothing to do with the HHS Mandate. The mandate is anathema to faith-based organizations and employers not because their employees should have the right to obtain contraceptives, but because they do not want to be compelled to provide them even if none of their employees want them. THAT is the point here. Why can’t Americans think clearly about anything?

  46. pagansister says:

    But they are also paying for yours, even if you choose not to use it, Mary H.

  47. I tried several times before to respond to Randy W but my replies never got posted. Perhaps it was the attempt to include links to sources. I’ll try one more time without links.
    OK, so the president himself did not cite this figure in his press conference on February 10th. He did say that nearly 99% of women had used contraceptives. And Cecilia Muñoz, the Director of his Domestic Policy Council, is using the 98% of Catholic women statistic, and the Obama campaign is using it as well.
    So, will the president admonish those the folks speaking on his behalf for mistating the facts, and will we hear an apology from them?

  48. We just want the choice to not be involved in contraception – ours or anyone else’s. We don’t want to be involved in even in a small, teensy-weensy part. It doesn’t matter how many or few of us there are. We have that right under the first amendment of the Constitution. Also, we need to speak out for ourselves, not just sit back and let the bishops do it. Under the eyes of the law, a bishop is just another citizen. We have as much right and responsibility to speak up as they do.

  49. pagansister says:
    “But they are also paying for yours, even if you choose not to use it, Mary H.”
    No room above, so I’m answering this here.
    And that matters how? My problem is not the money, my problem is participating in something that is morally wrong.
    Let’s pick something that I would guess we both believe is morally wrong: female genital mutilation. Would you be okay with the government making you pay for insurance that covers that? After all, it’s much safer for women to be mutilated under the antiseptic conditions of hospitals under anesthetic. Or would it bother you that your money was going to that, even though they’re “also paying for yours, even if you choose not to use it.”
    The hormonal birth control pill is a form of female genital mutilation. It’s just not always permanent.

  50. pagansister says:

    Mary H., I actually see no connection between your example of female genital mutilation and this subject. Yes, I most certainly agree your example is in every sense of the word, totally wrong and immoral.

  51. Well, that’s good. It’s nice to find that there is such a thing as objective evil, and that not all evil is “in the eye of the beholder.”

    Now how about you do some homework on the effect of hormonal contraception? My only caveat is to avoid Planned Parenthood. I’ll accept Guttmacher, as long as they’re not the only source you use.

    The main difference is that FGM physically destroys or mutilates a woman’s external reproductive system. Hormonal birth controls damages a woman’s internal reproductive system, usually, but not always, temporarily.

    And I won’t even ask you to go beyond the actual documented physical effects, to start with. I’m willing to save the behavioral and psychological impacts for once you’ve actually recognized the simple physical harm hormonal birth control does to women.

    I think hormonal birth control is in the same category as Chinese foot binding, tight corsetting and FGM, as Mary Daly described in “Beyond God the Father.” I used to like her writing.

  52. pagansister says:

    Having done hormomal birth control and having had absolutely no problems, I disagree with you that it is dangerous, and equal to Chinese foot binding, corsetting (where do you get this stuff?). I’m way beyond having kids and have had no adverse effects from the years I used them or while I was taking them. I would have had enough sense to stop taking them if they had started to give me problems. Nor are any of my friends having problems. Yes, most certainly women can be adversely effected from the pills. Women can have adverse effects from pregnancy too—so should they try to get pregnant? Childbirth can be dangerous also.
    Pregnancy is supposed to be normal—-and what a woman is supposed to do—reproduce. (at least some think that is all women are supposed to do!) As for the “explanation” of FGM-did you really think I had no idea what it does? But thanks anyhow. Still contend that “evil is in the eyes of the beholder” . FGM happens to be, in my eyes, equal to child abuse, torture etc. IMO, ABC is not evil. So my statement stands for me.

  53. I was contrasting FGM and contraception. I chose that because I was sure you DID know what it does.

    I’m very happy you and your friends have had no obvious side effects from the pill yet. But that’s not what I meant by research. Have any of you gotten breast cancer yet? I get this stuff from places like International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO), which classifies estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives (OCs) as Group 1, carcinogenic, their highest classification of carcinogenicity and the same as the classification for tobacco products. And the US CDC. Some of it I even get from Guttmacher.

    Really, I would like you to do some research outside of talking to the people you know. I have. I used to think the same way you did.

    Sure pregnancy and childbirth can be dangerous – when something goes wrong. It might be interesting to compare deaths from breast cancer to deaths from pregnancy.

    No one is saying anything about thinking that all women should do is have babies. It isn’t a choice between perpetual pregnancy and hormonal contraception, you know.

  54. Hmm, somehow Pagansister, I had envisioned you all this time as someone in her early twenties.

  55. pagansister says:

    Mary H. No cancer of any kind nor is there any in my friends. I did have the good sense to read the warnings when I started taking the pill. Back then it was very, very new and beat the heck out of a condom, and the diaphragm. After that the IUD was perfect. The pills then were many times more powerful than they are now. 2 children and a husband who chose to have surgery, so that elimated the pills/IUD. We planned our kids 3 years apart and chose to have no more. They are now adults, happily married and we have 1 grandchild. Appreciate your apparent concern for my welfare. IMO, women should make up their own minds on what to use for birth control, as there is now a wide variety of choices, including abstinance. However in a relationship/marriage, abstaining can be most un-natural, IMO.

  56. pagansister says:

    Manny, if your statement was serious, I appreciate the complement. Curious, why did you think I was that young? I am far beyond child bearing age– early marriage (both of us 20) finishing college and then having the first of our 2 children. Both children now married and we’re the grandparents of a super almost 2 year old grandson.

  57. It was serious, and I was just stating my impression. I didn’t offer it as a compliment nor a ridicule. That was my impression. Perhaps it’s because of your name “pagansister.” The “sister” makes me think of a young person, perhaps even a child, but obviously you write as an adult and couldn’t be a child. So my next presupposition was young lady.

    Let me take this opportunity to say though we probably disagree most of the time, I find you endearing. A pagan that comes over to Catholic blogs and respectfully and even kindly gives her thoughts must have a certain inner strength. Perhaps one day, you will in a burst of light convert over to Christianity. Please don’t take that as an insult; I only wish the best for you. Many blessings to you in whatever faith you want to take them.

  58. Probably the same number as Catholic women. It takes two to tango, as they say. Or haven’t you heard. ;)

  59. In other words, you’re not planning to do any research. Oh well. Apparently we’re close to the same age.

  60. pagansister says:

    Sorry to disappoint, Mary H. , but I’ll not be doing research. Right now in my life there is too much a happening—some very happy things and one not so happy thing.

  61. pagansister says:

    Manny, there is a story behind my moniker, but not for now. Your explanation of how you came to your impression was interesting—appreciate your responding to my query. Though you mentioned that you didn’t mean it as a compliment nor ridicule, I was a bit surprised that anyone would think me that young. (thus I took it as a compliment :o))
    As to the 2nd paragraph—-absolutely nothing you wrote could possibly be taken as an insult. All I can say in response is : Thank you very much for your kind words.


    My mother used contraception, my sisters used them, my cousins use them, my friends use them and yes we areall Catholic and I do plan to use condoms when I marry. Yes, we are a group of Catholics who attend mass every week, observe all Christian holidays and participate in the sacraments. The only people that I knew who used NFP were my grandmothers and they had lot’s of kids. We are educated, my sis is a doc we do know for a fact that NFP does not work if you only want to have 1 or 2 kids and NFP doesn’t protect against STDS.NFP only works if the women has a 100% regular cycle, she doesn’t ovulate more then 1 egg a month which I know people who do, she ovulates regularly and avoids sex 100% during that time and her husband pulls out before his semen come out, which also breaks the Church rules.But in the real world women don’t always have regular periods, ovulate at the same times and there are women who are with men who have Herpes, HIV, and other stds. NFP works for heaven where there is no sex. So many people who claim to be using NFP that I know aren’t using it cause their man pull out. So I do agree that 98% of all Catholic women in the WESTERN world have used contraception be it barrier methods, the pills, iuds, sterilization to prevent pregnancy at one point their lives.


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