1Flesh Plays Fast and Loose with Abortion Facts

There is a certain comfort to the constants in life.

Sun comes up, Sun comes down.

Tide goes in, tide goes out, never a miscommunication.

Pat Robertson says something disgusting.

And the folks at 1Flesh are, once again, publishing bad information in pursuit of their religious goals.

This time they’ve neatly packaged their fail in an attractive little graphic:

Pity that they care so much about their graphic design and so little about the accuracy of their statements…

Let’s just go through them one by one.

54% of abortions were performed on women who were using contraception when they got pregnant.

A surprising number. Shocking even… maybe because it’s not accurate.

The people at 1Flesh are either purposefully misrepresenting the facts or they don’t actually read the original studies but rather take their numbers from other pro-life websites.

The number appears to come from the Guttmacher Institute, in an article discussing abortion trends over 10 years ago (so already the very use of the present tense is questionable). But still, does the article back up this figure? Here’s what it says:

More than half of women obtaining abortions in 2000 (54%) had been using a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant.

Gee, anybody notice a difference? 1Flesh states that contraception was used when the women got pregnant, whereas the actual data merely states that contraception was used in the same general time period. This is like me saying I saw a murder suspect at the scene of the crime… when in fact I saw him in the same place a week before. A judge wouldn’t accept that and you shouldn’t accept this. Oh, and incidentally, the actual statistics include withdrawal (pulling out before climax) and “periodic abstinence” (rhythm and its variants) in contraceptive methods.

Both methods are terrible. Please don’t use them. Back to 1Flesh’s comments:

Another 38% of abortions were performed on women who used contraception, just not during the month they got pregnant, because sex was unexpected, they thought they could risk it, etc.

That’s nice. I hear a lot of deadly car crashes happen with drivers that previously used seat belts, just not that day, because it was just a quick drive, no one is on the road, they thought they could risk it, etc. I guess that shows seat belts don’t work, eh?

The probability of unintended pregnancy in 1 year of contraceptive use is 12%

This information comes from a CDC report (PDF). 1Flesh loves citing the CDC, and they dearly hope you never, ever listen to what the CDC says about contraception. Like the previous figures, this figure for failure rates includes abstinence and withdrawal, and also adds spermicides, which when used alone are even worse than pulling out. The CDC cites 12% as the average failure rate for “typical use.” This refers to how the method works in the population, to contrast it with “perfect use.” “Perfect use” failure rates are much lower than those of “typical use” because they happen in the context of clinical studies, where couples are educated on their use and cautioned to use them consistently and correctly. Comprehensive sex education aims, among other things, to bring the “typical use” rates closer and closer to the “perfect use” rates, by encouraging correct and consistent use of contraceptives. 1Flesh draws a different conclusion:

those opposing abortion should not promote a culture of contraception

Because if people stop using contraception, they’ll also stop having sex and unplanned pregnancy rates will go down. Obviously.

I suppose it’s fitting that misinterpreted and misrepresented evidence be used to support a faulty premise with a delusional solution.

About Claudia

I'm a lifelong atheist and a molecular biologist with a passion for science and a passionate opposition to its enemies.

  • C Peterson

    Well, one thing I do agree with: we need abortion as a backup to contraception. Regardless of the numbers.

  • Glasofruix

    What did you expect from the badcatho clique? The guy behind 1flesh is a brain dead moron, it shouldn’t be surprising to find “professional bullshit spewer” on his resume….

  • Sven2547

    I hate the fallacy that these Catholics and others use that “abstinence is 100% effective”. It has a high failure rate!

    Now I know what you’re thinking: “Sven, you cad! How can an abstinent person get pregnant?” Stick with me here:

    Take Bristol Palin. She decided she was going the abstinence-only route. Now she has a kid. In my book, that counts as a FAILURE of the abstinence-only approach, does it not? This failure doesn’t involve a broken condom or something, but rather it was a failure of human psychology. Turns out: people like sex, and Catholics ignore that basic fact at their peril.

  • curtcameron

    If I saw this and didn’t have someone explain it to me, I would have had no idea what “those opposing abortion should not promote a culture of contraception” even means.

  • jdm8

    You’re right that abstinence would fail too, by this same reasoning. No plan is effective if you don’t stick with the plan.

    Abstinence-only education is more of a failure though, even though they ramp up the cherry-picked scare stories to scare hormone-infused teenagers. AOE delays sex by an average of six months, and without knowledge of safer sex practices, they engage in riskier sex.

    I find it’s amusing the Catholic Church bases its foundation on an incident where a mother was supposedly abstinent. So much for 100% effectiveness.

  • ortcutt

    I wish they would stick to the normal Thomist nonsense that is the motivation for their name “1Flesh”. It’s at least transparently nonsensical as opposed to these fraudulent claims.

  • Overlapping Magisteria

    Bad statistics aside, they are asking the question exactly backwards. Instead of looking at what percentage of women who got abortions were using contraception, they should be asking what percentage of women who use contraception got abortions.

    This reminds me of the bit of satire that warned that nearly 100% of dangerous criminals had consumed bread or bread products within a day of their crimes. Therefore bread must be dangerous!

  • Rain

    Yes lovely graphics. I’ll finish reading it next Thursday when I have time, and I want a big headache. Too bad they didn’t use Comic Sans for the win.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    The 1flush page has a comment section with barely any activity.


  • Glasofruix

    Bristol had two kids, if i remember teh interwebz gossip correctly.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    Yes, at least the deceptive message requires enough effort to read that it will discourage some from getting through it.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    I wonder if the graphic was created without any form of contraception. As I read, on and on, I noticed it was overdue for a period.

  • trj

    The deliberate, blatant misuse of statistics comes as no surprise. But I didn’t get the “conclusion” at first: contraception sometimes fails, therefore it should be abandoned altogether?

    But come to think of it, it is of course an underhand argument for abstinence. Because obviously abstinence works great, even though countless statistical studies show the exact opposite. I’d love to see 1Flesh, in their usual creative way, explain how the dismal failure rates of abstinence-only sex ed is in fact an endorsement of how great it works. I’m confident they can switch the numbers once again.

  • KeithCollyer

    OMG! you mean Bristol’s babby was from implacable condescension?

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Using the language from the article, abstinence has a 0% failure rate for “perfect use.” For “typical use” however, the failure rate is much higher. This false equivalance is a common ploy with opponents of contraception. I suspect many don’t even see the problem.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    I may be out of the loop, but since when has brightly color word salad replaced actual arguments. I tried to get information from the poster, but I came away thinking that 54% of 38% of 12% of abortions in 1995 are yelling at me.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    No, just one, Tripp. You might be thinking of her brother Trig, who was born about the same time as her son.

  • Glasofruix

    Hmmmm, according to this


    And some research it seems that Sarah “the crazy moose” Palin covered’up her daughter’s second pregnancy with a square shaped pillow underneath her clothes.

  • Conuly

    Sven, given that the failure rate of condoms includes people who normally use condoms but one day didn’t, I absolutely concur.

  • DougI

    How do you know an Anti is lying? Their lips are moving.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

    Thanks for taking this apart. All this indicates is that contraceptive use has to be consistent, that people need good access to the full range of contraceptive options, and that we need sex ed programs that educate people about all their options and their use.

    Also, people have been trying to limit and space pregnancies for a really long time, we’re just way better at it now. The ability to prevent pregnancy with a high degree of success makes the concept of intent feasible.

  • Gus Snarp

    Funny, I just read the whole thing and thought, gosh, that all makes perfect sense, but where’s the argument against abortion/contraception. Then I read the last line. What? How the hell does one conclude that from the statistics above? It makes no sense at all. Of course people don’t use birth control consistently and correctly every time. Of course we need abortion as a backup. What’s the problem? But I guess it helps that I automatically get the context for the statistics and don’t make the assumptions that 1flesh* wants me to make.

    Well that and, why the hell have they crammed all these words into this hideous and unreadable graphic?

    *That still sounds like a sex toy of some kind.

  • Steve Bowen

    They also miss the obvious point that couples who use contraception do so because they don’t want to get pregnant. If it fails they are the ones most likely to seek abortions.

  • Helanna

    I don’t even think my brain can process this level of willful stupid. I mean, I’m just trying to come up with something to say, and I literally just can’t. Nothing. There are no words for it.

  • Gus Snarp

    This just really stuck out at me:

    Oh, and incidentally, the actual statistics include withdrawal (pulling out before climax) and “periodic abstinence” (rhythm and its variants) in contraceptive methods.

    Both methods are terrible. Please don’t use them.

    Doesn’t 1Flesh promote a rhythm variant for couples who are married?

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    That is the only allows method of birth control for Catholics. And it’s pretty much bullshit. Like my doctor told me, “what do you think you are, a computer? Women’s bodies aren’t predictable!”

  • Sven2547

    I call it “Vatican Roulette”.

  • Emily

    This is because the comments are moderated. My comment there is currently “awaiting moderation”, and I have no doubt that it will be rejected.

  • Lagerbaer

    It is much easier to convince teenagers to not use contraception than it is to convince them to not have sex.

  • Lagerbaer

    Also, I would be extremely happy if one day the report would read that close to 100% of all women seeking abortion had practiced contraception.

    Because right now, you could interpret the statistics so that 46% of all women either got raped and thus didn’t use contraception, obviously, or had intentional sex without contraception yet without the desire to get pregnant. The former is horrible, the latter irresponsible.

  • Lagerbaer

    - How do you call couples that use the rhythm method?
    - Parents.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    I must be spoiled from the free expression on blogs like this. Moderation never occurred to me.

  • Lagerbaer

    My experience is that, in general, religious sites, blogs and youtube channels are much more heavily regulated than atheist sites, blogs and channels….

  • J-Rex

    Seeing as children with Down Syndrome are much more common after a woman hits 40, it seems more likely to me that it’s Sarah’s child.

  • Glasofruix

    Well, maybe the entire Palin family is actually full of inbreds. We’ll never know.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Alas, I don’t know where I read it (so no link) but I heard that the failure rates in the studies of the natural methods they promote DON’T INCLUDE PREGNANCIES AS A FAILURE, because getting pregnant is a good thing and not a failure. Or something. It left me so confused I never quite figured out the rationale.

  • Carmelita Spats

    The rhythm method is taught by the Catholic Church to couples seeking to be married in their cult. It is a disgusting method. Not only is it unreliable but once you do the math and calculate the number of days that you MUST abstain plus the days that you really SHOULD abstain as a precautionary measure (cushion days), you either have one week for sexual activity OR you increase the days by having sex during the woman’s menstrual cycle which is beyond grotesque. The idiot who taught our “Pre-Cana” class realized the biological conundrum so he encouraged couples to have sex during menstruation because he said, “the blood acts as a lubricant”. EWWWWW! My jaw dropped! Menstrual blood smells worse than rotting asparagus; many women experience bloating, cramps, heavy bleeding, mood disorders, and then they have to open up because Baby Jesus cries over condoms? I would ask 1Flesh, “Who the hell cleans the sheets covered in menstrual blood? The woman?”

  • Glasofruix

    The’re afraid some logic might sneak in.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    That’s at the heart of their message, that pregnancy is a good thing. There’s no room in this worldview for Catholic couples who absolutely do not want to become parents. They’re supposed to be open to the possibility of pregnancy, or else they’re committing a grave sin.

  • Jesusdoppelganger

    “Pity that they care so much about their graphic design and so little about the accuracy of their statements…”

    Actually,their design is as confused as their ‘facts.’

  • Jesusdoppelganger

    Close, but not quite. Women over the age of 40 years are more likely to have a child with trisomy 21; but children with trisomy 21 are more likely to have been born to a mother of under 40 years than over that age. This is because many more babies are born to younger women.

  • anon

    Many of the “natural” methods of contraception can also be used to help with conception (by switching whether or not you have sex on your fertile days). One study that came up with a very low failure rate (and I also can’t find the link) assumed that any couple that had sex on a fertile day must have been trying to get pregnant, because otherwise, why would they have had sex? Yea, it’s awful logic

  • Gus Snarp

    Setting aside the idiocy that is the rhythm method, plenty of people, male and female, have no problem whatsoever with having sex during menstruation. Just because you find it icky doesn’t mean it’s “beyond grotesque”.

  • J-Rex

    Wow. Grow up.

  • Sue Blue

    These misinformation morons are also fond of claiming that birth control pills cause abortion by preventing implantation, as if hapless little zygotes issue forth ceaselessly from the ovaries in search of a warm welcome in the uterus, only to be turned away by the eeeevil pill and heartlessly left to die on a cold, cold tampon. They totally ignore the fact that hormonal birth control prevents ovulation in the first place. The egg never leaves its ovarian nest, never hooks up with any little sperm, no matter how vigorously the sperm swim or how much Jesus wants them to meet. There’s no conception, no little zygote, no little person-to-be thrown out with the trash or flushed down a toilet. There’s just nothing – not even a period unless you stop taking the pill for a few days. But God forbid that a woman has THAT much control over her “natural” functions, right? We mustn’t let facts get in the way of reminding women how evil it is to have sex without pregnancy.
    Oh, and that screaming poster looks like a schizophrenic’s word salad in print.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jenny.ashford1 Jenny Ashford

    I also thought I’d mention that there are products out there to facilitate sex during menstruation. For instance, I use a disposable plastic cup, something like a diaphragm, that fits against the cervix. My BF and I often have sex when I’m on my period; he can’t feel the cup at all, and there’s no mess.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    It’s also worth noting that this method requires women to perform checks of their cervical mucus, which many women may find unpleasant, in order to determine when it is “safe” for them to have sex.

    Just as with Orthodox Judaism’s “ritual purity” requirements, it’s women who are forced to keep an obsessive eye on their bodily functions and carry out invasive tasks. Men get off scot free.

  • Good and Godless

    If abstinence is truly 100% effective – I have a question about baby Jesus.

    “Using a method” is not the same as “using an effective method”

    Rhythm method : According to data, perfect usage of the rhythm method results in 1 out of 9 women getting pregnant. But “typical” use leads to about 25 percent of women getting pregnant.

    Pull out method: typical failure rate for most couples is about 27 percent

    Read more: Effective Birth Control Options – Women’s Health at WomansDay.com. – Woman’s Day

  • someotherperson

    Gus: It is not a variant of the rhythm method. The rhythm method says, basically, “Your cycle is this long. Divide by two–that’s when you ovulate. Don’t have sex around that day if you don’t want to get pregnant.” We can all see how reliable that is, when women’s cycle lengths vary, not just between women but even sometimes between cycles, and things like illness and other variables can delay ovulation or make us skip periods, etc. NFP (the so-called variant) uses science (believe it or not), like the fact that the same things (hormones!) that cause ovulation also cause temperature rise, an increase in and change in consistency of cervical mucus, and cervical dilation, to determine when you are likely to be fertile (ovulating).

    MD: I really hope I never have a doctor like yours–I hope a doctor can figure out what’s going on with a human body. Humans may not be computers, but we’re just as scientific as evolution and other biological processes. If you can study biology and make deductions about how to get rid of someone’s cancer or another disease or determine that organisms evolved, you can study biology and make deductions about when a woman is highly likely to ovulate. And then you can base your intercourse schedule on that (whether you’re trying to get pregnant or not). Are men’s bodies just as unpredictable? Pretty sure if you stimulate a man’s sexual organs, his penis will become erect and eventually ejaculate semen. A lot about the human body is understood to a pretty high level–not as much of a mystery as your doctor would have you believe. But actually, since we can’t use science to figure this stuff out, it makes a lot more sense to just keep pumping chemicals into our bodies or cutting ourselves open to insert metal into our nether regions. It makes total sense that doctors can figure out what we can put into our bodies to stop us from ovulating or getting pregnant but not tell us that there are biological processes we can monitor that might tell us what’s going on with our bodies.

    I thought atheists were pro-science. I’ve heard pretty endlessly from agnostics and atheists how anti-science the Catholic Church is.

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    Well, let see, oh, you’re under stress from work and it causes ovulation to be delayed for a week. So you have sex thinking you’re in the clear when you’re actually at your most fertile. Yeah, very effective.

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    And by the way, with the rhythm method I’d never be able to have sex without getting pregnant. Because I am THAT predictably fertile.

  • someotherperson

    Neither I nor intelligent doctors nor the majority of people in the Catholic Church with recent information suggest use of the rhythm method to avoid or achieve pregnancy. It is outdated and no longer taught by the majority of Catholic people. (I don’t know of anyone who does.) As I said, the method used today is NFP–natural family planning/periodic continence/fertility awareness. I would suggest you learn something about it and see how these methods do not quite work the way you think they do. Some suggested methods: Creighton, symptothermal/CCLI (Couple-to-Couple League), Billings, Marquette.

    Reader’s Digest version: NFP really doesn’t have much to do with a calendar, although you do keep track of days, which show up on a calendar, but the start of a cycle has to do with your symptoms, and the end of it has to do with the beginning of another. You use charts, not calendars. The predicted fertile times in between have to do with symptoms, not durations. If you are a woman (I honestly do not know; not sure if your comment was tongue-in-cheek because you are a man or if you are a woman whose cycles are interesting), I have a feeling you would probably be able to use one of the NFP methods and avoid pregnancy if you used it correctly, predictable or not. There are also ways of altering your diet to help regulate your cycle (yay, science!) or your symptoms so you can have more accurate data. As far as being under stress at work, if it was causing ovulation to be delayed, it should show up in your symptoms–for instance, with the CCLI/symptothermal method, you take your basal body temperature daily and you monitor your cervical mucus throughout the day (not a big deal, just observing when you use the bathroom). If you aren’t going to ovulate anytime soon, your temperature should stay low, and your mucus should be more tacky, less stringy, or nonexistent. Creighton method is mucus-only and have different criteria. Different methods have different ways (more and less conservative) of determining when you should abstain if trying to avoid pregnancy. (For instance, you can subtract 7 days from your historical earliest date of temperature rise, you can have sex until you’ve started having mucus (least conservative), or you can stop after 5 or 6 days after your period starts, in CCLI/symptothermal.)

    In short: the Catholic Church does not advocate the use of the rhythm method anymore. It does suggest using NFP. RHYTHM METHOD ≠ NFP.

    Crazy thing? This isn’t just for Catholics. A lot of environmentally-motivated people are also using these methods to avoid putting unnecessary chemicals in their bodies. They usually call it FAM, or fertility awareness method.

  • someotherperson

    The mucus often just shows up in your underwear. Sometimes, there are more observations necessary, but not every method requires stretching it between your fingers. Some, you just have to be able to tell by looking. There are so many fluids going on in sex…and menstruation…I’m puzzled why cervical mucus would be so much more unpleasant to deal with.

    The thing is that men are predictable–men are fertile all the time. (Am I alive? Have my sexual organs started or finished maturing? Yep, I’m fertile.) (Unless, of course, there is some other disorder. But it’s a 24/7 thing, pretty much.) Women aren’t. If you are having sex in a long-term relationship (like marriage), a woman might even be able to get her husband to do the charting. This puts the emphasis on “our” fertility rather than the woman’s fertility–it takes two to tango. A number of women I have talked to about NFP say their husbands do the charting; my husband has. FYI, this is one of the reasons marriages between people using NFP probably end in divorce less often. If you routinely talk about cervical mucus and cervix observations, you can “talk about anything,” as people say. The budget or him not taking out the trash/her never putting her dirty clothes in the hamper is just one more thing to talk about.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Just because you don’t find checking cervical mucus unpleasant or invasive doesn’t mean that other women do not. There are many women who do not feel comfortable with such activities, and it’s their right to feel that way.

    My point was the the burden falls entirely on the woman in this system. The man in not required to perform bodily checks. He’s not required to keep detailed charts. He’s not required to forgo sex at the time of the month when he most desires it.

  • someotherperson

    It’s not something I have never felt to be unpleasant. I didn’t grow up okay with the fact that I had discharge in my underwear–it was quite awkward. But it’s something you get past. There are lots of things that mature people are expected to get past. I don’t see why this should be any different than changing diapers or having sex. Sure, people can find mucus observations uncomfortable; it doesn’t bother me that they do, and I won’t tell them they can’t. I just don’t see it as something people can’t get past.

    In fact, men are most attracted to their female partners when they are fertile, so it’s arguable that men are also required to forgo sex at the time of the month when he most desires it–biology often works both ways. Sorry that biology is so constant for men. Just the way the science works. And honestly, NFP does not require that the woman keep detailed charts; one person has to. And that can just as easily be on the man as on the woman. The only part the woman has to do is perform bodily checks. Take temperature once a day, for STM. Notice what’s in their underwear. No side effects. No needles or anything.

    As someone who uses or knows about NFP understands, it is often approached from a couple standpoint, not an individual standpoint. The woman’s fertility isn’t just about the woman; it’s about the couple and their sexual relationship. One thing that people really just have to get past is that, until the way sex works changes (men are no longer constantly fertile and women are no longer periodically fertile), aside from changing that biology (which can have negative side effects), women are the variable, and it’s far easier to monitor or alter a variable than to measure (which is unmeaningful) or alter a constant. If you don’t want to alter biology, that’s what you have left. It’s not discrimination. It’s efficiency. It’s logic. It’s biology.

    I won’t argue that women don’t have a slightly more involved job with NFP, but it doesn’t really take a ton of time or anything, and like I said, either party can manage the charts–its up to the couple and does not have to fall solely on the woman; she just has to communicate her observations. So the burden of determining what physical things are going on falls on the woman, yes, but the entire process does not have to be on the woman. It honestly seems far easier to make NFP equitable than getting a shot, taking a daily pill, having a surgery, or wearing a condom or a diaphragm (the man, or the woman, depending on which type is used, though I guess one person could put it on the other). I think experience with (maybe functional knowledge of) NFP would be the only way to verify this though, so don’t take my word on the last part.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Yes, but that’s you. Just because you don’t find it unpleasant does not mean that other women do not. Other women may find the experience of being forced to check their cervical mucus gross and invasive. They are perfectly entitled to feel that way and they should not be told just to “get past” it because you think they should.

    I was pointing out that your experience is not universal. You may be happy with your method. I have no quarrel with that, but the Catholic church teaches that this is the only acceptable method, and it is a method that many women find unpleasant, difficult, and the burden of it falls entirely on the woman, as I have pointed out. Men are not required to do anything to their bodies. They are not required to keep charts. They are not forced to perform examinations of their genitals.

    There’s nothing equitable about it, and not only does the burden of determining fertility fall on the woman, a woman who does not want to have children is never allowed (in this system) to experience intercourse when she most desires it. That is hideously unfair. At the time of the month when many women experience their peak of sexual desire, they are told they must abstain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/heather.parker.92 Heather Parker

    WOOHOO!!!! Someone else taking on 1Flesh’s lies and misstatements! Thank you! I’ve done…somewhere around 7 or 8 (working on another right now) pieces debunking them. Take a look over at antigoneawakens.com

  • adease

    Actually, 1flesh is not a advocate for abstinence only for contraception, but for fertility awareness (aka charting). They aren’t “against” all forms of contraception, just the pill and other invasive forms of contraception that may have negative effects on a woman’s health. The one thing I am not a fan of is that they are also against barrier methods (condoms, diaphragms). I personally use barrier methods along with charting (during my most fertile days) and I do not see anything wrong with that. 1flesh was the website that made me aware of charting and I am thankful for them for that. Even though some of their statistics my be skewed, they actually are fans of science, just like the author of this article (so says her bio). They just focus on the science of a woman’s natural cycle as a form of contraception.

    I would also like to point out that natural family planning (NFP) and the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) are NOT the Rhythm Method. The Rhythm Method is stupid.