Lies, damned lies and 98 percent of Catholic women

I’ve mentioned before that I once had to get a special dispensation to work at a newspaper because my degree was not in journalism but, rather, in economics. Have you ever been in a newsroom with a bunch of journalism grads who don’t know how to calculate anything meaningful about, say, the most recently released budget document because, well, their degrees are in journalism? I have. It’s not pretty. If you think some reporters have trouble getting religion, let me assure you that many reporters also have trouble getting statistics.

A perfect example of how those two things collide is the incessantly repeated statistic we’ve been subjected to this week. Here’s NPR from last week:

But not all Catholics share that view when it comes to birth control. In fact, 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lifetimes.

Here’s The Atlantic, just throwing a bunch of numbers up:

It’s surely a fact that the Catholic Church’s higher-ups don’t want to hear, but it’s one that the White House has heralded in his defense of the new (and today, amended) requirement for Catholic employers to offer insurance that covers contraceptives. “According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, most women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception,” the White House’s blog wrote last week. They were referring to an April 2011 report from the organization that describes its mission as to “advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.” The 98 percent was among all Catholic women who have had sex and did not include “natural family planning,” i.e. the only officiallly Church-sanctioned method of preventing pregnancies. That number is nearly indistiguishable from the reported 99 percent of all American women who say they have used contraception. These are the key bits from Guttmacher Institute’s “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use”

The typos might suggest something about the accuracy of the general argument. It’s fine, I suppose, to use White House talking points in a story or to cite the abortion rights supporting Guttmacher Institute without noting its relationship with Planned Parenthood. But in this case, Guttmacher erred in what it claimed were the results of its own study.

Guttmacher did say in its summary that “Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same, 98%, among sexually experienced Catholic women.”

But that’s not in any way an accurate statement of what its own survey found.

On the very same page, it explains that its survey was restricted to women aged 15-44, so that cuts out all women who were older than 44 at the time of the survey. And a footnote explains that a rather significant chunk of women were excluded from this figure of “all women” — namely, women who are pregnant, post-partum or trying to get pregnant.” A later footnote says that the only women who had sex in the last three months were included in this group. Finally, included in this 98 percent figure of current contraceptive users are the 11 percent who report no method.

So I guess we could say that among women aged 15-44 who had sex in the last three months but aren’t pregnant, post-partum or trying to get pregnant, 87 percent of women who identify as Catholic used contraception. It’s worth pondering just who is left out of this 87 percent, other than, you know, everyone who doesn’t use contraception. Great stat, team journalist! I mean, the study was designed to find only women who would be most likely to use contraception. And it did.

So let that statistic die. Or accurately summarize it. (Hint: “Every woman who ever lived used 18 forms of birth control. For fun.” is not going to cut it.) Also, it’s shameful how many people just cited that stat without any reference to where it was found. You might remember I had to post a note asking for help tracking it down after I’d seen it repeated for the thousandth time. That’s not even OK for opinion pieces, much less news articles.

NPR ran a story yesterday morning that a few of you submitted. Reporter Allison Keyes told listeners that she couldn’t find a single Catholic who supports the bishops (although she did find the false stat!):

KEYES: No one who agreed to talk took the bishop’s side. Like Burger, those who did talk think people are selectively following the bishop’s rules. She quotes recent studies which say that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraceptives.

BURGER: The edicts are not being followed and I think the public is doing what it will.

KEYES: Berber says she doesn’t like the way the church injects itself into political debates.

Keyes only went to the 10 a.m. mass at Shrine of the Sacred Heart church in northwest Washington. She only found people who oppose the bishops. Do you think she would have had a similar result if she’d gone to a parish outside of DC? What if she’d gone to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception? (On this note, I rather like this Friday NPR story from Morning Edition that found a Catholic student who opposes the bishops. Except she isn’t Catholic. She’s actually a Unitarian Universalist.)

Here’s how host Steve Inskeep wraps it up:

INSKEEP: So, it wasn’t hard to find Catholics — at least at that one church — who differ with the bishops. The bishops, as a group, say they are still concerned despite the wider exception for religious employers, which allows health insurance companies who favor contraception directly. The bishops say they’re still studying the details of the Obama administration mandate, which they say may still affect some people who object to contraception. The bishops call that, quote, “unacceptable, raising serious moral concerns.”

It’s NPR News.

Yes, it is NPR News, isn’t it. Of course, if you’re going to frame your story completely from the side of “everyone I talked to wants the government to mandate ‘free’ birth control coverage,” you miss out on any meaningful discussion of religious liberty, much less any of the other opposition to HHS mandates. It also treats a story that affects a wide swath of religious adherents as a “Catholic” story. That may be a line advanced by some of the loudest players in the fight, but is it accurate?

Image of woman excluded from Guttmacher survey via Shutterstock.

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  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    I keep wondering what does it matter that 98% disagree? What does it matter that 99.99% disagree? What’s the point in bringing it up? I get the whole ‘it’s about women’s health/birth control/worker’s rights not religious liberty’ argument. Don’t agree, but I get it. But what’s the point of everyone bringing up the legendary 98? What’s it even supposed to mean (and this assumes that the stat is even correct)?

  • Martha

    At least the “Atlantic” did qualify that the figure applied to women who were sexually active and did remove the NFP people, but you’re correct, Mollie: what the “98%” (and as we’ve parsed the figures from the survey on here, that’s not even correct; it’s more like 84%) of self-identified Catholic women who are having sex and don’t want to become pregnant are using some form of contraception.

    Which just means that “women who don’t want to become pregnant and are using methods to avoid it are mostly using these contraceptive methods”. It certainly does not mean 98% of all sexually active Catholic women, much less 98% of all Catholic women. But it’s a handy figure to use as a stick to beat the bishops with, I suppose. And never mind that even if 100% of Catholics lie, swear like troopers (including taking the Lord’s name in vain), cheat on their taxes, drink too much, drive after drinking too much and kill someone in a car crash, get into fights (both verbal and physical), do not keep the Sabbath day, swipe things from work for use at home, fall out with their family and never talk to them for years, and lust after those not their spouses – all these things are still sins :-)

  • TheTalmidian

    “On the very same page, it explains that its survey was restricted to women aged 15-44, so that cuts out all women who were older than 44 at the time of the survey.”

    I think the rather obvious reason for the age targeting to approximate the period at which women are fertile. Obviously, there are girls who become fertile younger than 15 and women over the age of 44 who haven’t gone through menopause, but I think the age group here was meant to create a proximate fertility window.

    “And a footnote explains that a rather significant chunk of women were excluded from this figure of ‘all women’ — namely, women who are pregnant, post-partum or trying to get pregnant.”

    Even if these women believed in birth control, they certainly wouldn’t be using it during these particular times. Including people who are trying to get pregnant on purpose in a study of how women choose to avoid pregnancy makes no sense.

    “A later footnote says that the only women who had sex in the last three months were included in this group.”

    This is a fair criticism since obviously some might be choosing to regulate their body’s through abstinence, and they would be left out. As would be married couples who simply hadn’t had sex recently.

    “Finally, included in this 98 percent figure of current contraceptive users are the 11 percent who report no method.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean that 11% of the self-reporting contraceptive users didn’t specifically list the method(s) they used?

    If so, I’m not sure how that cuts into the 98% figure. Are you suggesting that this 11% of the 98% are somehow lying about using contraception, a lie betrayed by their choice not to list the form of birth control they utilized?

    That seems like a stretch.

  • Fr. Richard

    Mollie, thanks for taking the time to clarify this “98%” business. I’m a bit surprised that so many people seemed to believe it just on face value. To say that 98% of ANY group of people practice “X” (apart from breathing) should be suspect from the beginning.

  • R9

    I think it rather does matter if the majority of followers of a denomination don’t bother to live to whatever their priests dictate. It brings into question whether the rule is meaningful or relevant today.

    Anyway i’m all for more reliable stats reporting but if the 98% ends up being more like 80-something-% then it’s not making a colossal amount of difference.

  • Marcello

    NPR doesn’t “get” religion. NPR doesn’t “get” statistics. Frankly, they don’t “get” much of anything that doesn’t support their biases and preconceptions. That wouldn’t bother me as much if NPR was privately financed company, but using taxpayer dollars to spread this sort of misinformation is not acceptable. It’s long past time we cut off their funding.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    I think it rather does matter if the majority of followers of a denomination don’t bother to live to whatever their priests dictate

    That’s sort of like saying a person’s rights are only violated if the majority says they are, correct? That certainly seems to be the point I’m getting in all the coverage of the 98.

  • R9

    I don’t understand the comparison.

  • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon

    R9,

    But it doesn’t end up being 80-something-%; it ends up being 80-something-% of one particular segment of a carefully defined population that does not include all Catholic women. The primary (and explicit) point of the study was not to determine how many Catholic women use birth control but to look at how religion affected what birth control methods women used, and thus the study tried to set its sample so that it would include, as much as possible, only women who were both currently sexually active and not trying to get pregnant (and not currently pregnant and not postpartum), precisely because these are the women who are most likely to be using birth control (the study authors are very explicit that their only interest is in women who do not want to become pregnant despite being at risk for doing so). Determining the percentage of all Catholic women would require adding in populations of Catholic women who (1) were not sexually active in the sense used by the study; (2) were trying to get pregnant; (3) were currently pregnant; (4) had recently been pregnant. Even within the larger set of data from which the study drew its sample, the study authors are quite clear that thirty percent of the women had never had sex at all, and thus were left out if the sample as being unlikely to be trying to avoid pregnancy.

  • R9

    I think knowing what % of women actively trying to get pregnant is indeed useful. Although the gist of this still seems to be that when they’re not, they’re probably using contraceptives.

  • Julia

    Didn’t the WH blog description say the survey was of ” Catholic women [who]have used contraception” and “among all Catholic women who have had sex and did not include ‘natural family planning’”. This gives the impression that the survey is not limited to 15-44 age range. Then why not ask older women about their history?

    Dividing women into those trying to get pregnant and those who don’t want to get pregnant is not a good method with Catholic women. The preferred Catholic stance is accepting whatever happens – which doesn’t fit either category and may be skewing the results.

    I don’t understand the 11% who don’t identify their method – are they part of the 2% or were they also not included in the study? Why would they be left out if you’re trying to find out how many use birth control?

    Most strange of course – only including the sexually active leaves out single women who are following the church rule on chastity. Not to mention faithful wives of men employed in the military. These are two pretty good methods of not getting pregnant.

    The survey provides no useful information. Out of a current snapshot of women 15 to 44, not including: pregnant women, women who are trying to get pregnant, women who practice natural family planning, women who haven’t had sex in three months, women who use some kind of birth control but don’t identify the method, single women who follow church teaching on chastity, and women who follow church teaching on being faithful to a spouse who is absent or perhaps ill – what percent of the remaining women who really, really don’t want to get pregnant are left. That’s the statistic I’d like to see.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    R9,

    In other words, a segment of the American population, however small, is saying that its religious rights are being violated. OK, maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. But none of this has anything to do with majority this or that. If it’s true that 98% of Catholics don’t give a swig, then it’s also true that 2% do. That’s a couple hundred thousand Americans saying this would violate their religious rights. Maybe they’re wrong and there’s some legal answer. But again, I see no reason to care what the majority of Americans say about this. If one person says his rights are violated, what the majority thinks is irrelevant, or so I’ve heard over the years. Which is why I keep asking just what the significance is of all the 98% that I keep hearing and reading about.

  • http://blog.acton.org/ Jordan

    @Dave G. I agree completely. That’s the thrust of the post over at Mere Comments linked above, in which we find out that the CUA student quoted is actually a self-described “practicing Unitarian Universalist.” In trotting out this statistic, the media doesn’t even seem to get that Roman Catholic doctrine isn’t decided by majority vote.

  • Julia

    I meant to say “what percent of the whole Catholic population of women 15 – 44 are the remaining women” in the study.

  • Rachel K

    “And a footnote explains that a rather significant chunk of women were excluded from this figure of ‘all women’ — namely, women who are pregnant, post-partum or trying to get pregnant.”

    Even if these women believed in birth control, they certainly wouldn’t be using it during these particular times. Including people who are trying to get pregnant on purpose in a study of how women choose to avoid pregnancy makes no sense.

    Agreed, and I think this is less an issue of the press not getting religion than it is an issue of the press not getting NFP (which is fair–there aren’t as many of us as there are religious people). Among traditional contraceptive users, AFAIK, you pretty much fall into one of two categories: actively trying to get pregnant (not taking the pills anymore, not putting on condoms, getting the IUD removed, etc.) and actively trying not to (doing the usual contraceptive routines). For NFP users, because the method involves a grueling amount of self-discipline in which couples have to abstain when we don’t want to, there’s a third category: you’re not really actively trying to get pregnant, but you’re being a bit more lax with the rules than usual. (The online NFP community uses three different abbreviations for these states: TTC for “trying to conceive,” TTA for “trying to avoid,” and TTW for “trying to . . . whatever.”

    This is important because depending on how the Guttmacher Institute framed its question, they may or may not have eliminated NFP users who are “trying to . . . whatever,” which, in my (admittedly anecdotal) experience, tends to be a pretty high number. If they were only excluding women who were “trying to get pregnant,” than those TTW women would be included in the survey–after all, they aren’t actively trying to get pregnant. If, as the study phrases it on page 5, they’re only surveying women who “do not want to become pregnant,” the TTW women weren’t included as part of the survey because, again it’s not that they don’t want to become pregnant; they just don’t care. I can certainly see why Guttmacher wouldn’t understand that there’s a crucial difference between “do not want to become pregnant” and “not actively trying to become pregnant” in the NFP community, but it leads to a statistical hole.

  • Passing By

    As always at this point, I feel obligated to note that the interesting stat is what percentage of women who go to Mass weekly and currently use a form of artificial contraception. Until you know that percentage (which will still be relatively high), you don’t know anything that matters.

  • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon

    R9, Of course it’s useful. However, it’s not useful for saying anything about all Catholic women (or as you put it before, for giving us a number that can plausibly be called “the majority of followers of a denomination”), nor is it useful for saying anything about the Catholic population in general. What the study does tell us, more or less, is that of Catholic women in the population of probably-fertile who are currently or very recently sexually active who do not want to get pregnant, use of contraceptive methods is quite typical of the whole population of probably-fertile women who are currently or very recently sexually active who do not want to get pregnant. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t tell us much about Catholic women generally nor does the number tell us anything of broader significance.

    (Also, I just noticed that I forgot to put in the age range restriction in my previous comment; that also has to be taken into account.)

  • Will

    Let’s ban kosher shechita. Plenty of Jews eat treyf, so it can’t be a religious freedom issue, right?

  • http://cleansingfiredor.com/ Thinkling

    An interesting forward looking question is, how long will this statistic have legs? The famous Kinsey 10% of people are gay meme has been discredited for years yet it still gets trotted out with some regularity.

    It has been my perception that corrections are made quickly to misreported stats, but only if at all. After a few days or weeks, I would not expect any widely distributed correction to ever be made.

    You know, you folks at GR do great work, but lately the material has been quite appalling. Ever thought of deconstructing a John Allen piece? ;)

  • Susan Davis

    I’d like to see if there’s evidence that the majority of those Catholics who do use proscribed contraceptives are in favor of the HHS mandate. Isn’t it possible that many of those people don’t want government mandates that go against Catholic teachings, even if they don’t follow all those teachings themselves?

  • Julia

    Rachel K:

    It’s amazing that the category of “accepting whatever happens” is not on the radar of not only the Guttmacher folks, but it has almost disappeared from general conversation and thinking. It’s what “open to life” means in the Catholic sense – the major element of Catholic teaching against contraceptive thinking.

    That lack of comprehension is probably behind the media difficulty in understanding the Church’s position. They don’t even see the possibility of a situation which is neither trying to get pregnant or trying not to get pregnant, both of which presume human control of the production of new life.

  • R9

    Well what it tells us depends on how many women of child-bearing age are sexually active but not actively after children.

    hmm also you say “the study authors are quite clear that thirty percent of the women had never had sex at all,” but looking at page 4 of the report I make that 11% for catholics?

  • Martha

    A couple of points to note: Ray, Julia – the survey was not specifically of Catholic women, or confined to Catholic women; the figures quoted are for those women who identified as Catholic in the survey sample.

    Also, Ray, I think it does make a difference if 14% fewer than the figure being tossed around do use contraceptives/buy organic dish soap/own a poodle/drive a Lexus – ask any marketing company!

    Talmidian, the 11% figure was of the survey sample where even of the sexually active women who were not trying to become pregnant, 11% were having sex without using contraception.

    Finally, for the statistically-confused, Michael Flynn (trained statistician and SF writer and Catholic) has a post up about how the dark arts of sampling work.

  • R9

    Martha, don’t go sullying Ray’s good name by mistaking me for him!

    DaveG:

    In other words, a segment of the American population, however small, is saying that its religious rights are being violated.

    Okay thanks, I follow. I think you’re onto another side of the issue. The point of these statistics is questioning how seriously the wider catholic population takes these rules in the first place.

    Some amount do, clearly, so we’re into the question of whether they have a right to an exemption from employment laws. (which are themselves a rights issue)

  • Martha

    Apologies to you both, gentlemen/ladies/other.

    Passing By asked what percentage of women go to Mass weekly and use a form of artificial contraception; Mike Flynn addresses that:

    “Figure 1 in the Guttmacher report provides a breakdown of religious participation. We find that only 30% of the “Catholic women” in their study reported attending church weekly, versus 11% who said “never” and 29% who said less than monthly. IOW, 40% of those claiming to be Catholic are either Easter Bunnies or never attend Mass.”

    So the figure is that 30% of practicing Catholic women use artificial contraception. I think even R9 would agree that is a marked difference from “98% (or even 84%) of Catholic women” :-)

  • Bill

    Good points, Julia. Nor do we know how many women refused to take part in the survey, further narrowing the population to those who would talk about such things to strangers.

  • R9

    I think even R9 would agree that is a marked difference from “98% (or even 84%) of Catholic women

    Not totally, because you’re comparing the set of “catholics” with “catholics who attend mass weekly”.

  • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon

    R9,

    The 11% covers Catholic women of a certain demographic, not all Catholic women in the sample. I dropped, on re-reading, an important qualification, which is that it is 30% of Catholic women who had never married; see page 6. Such qualifications, of course, are important. In any case, the question journalists should always ask in the case of any figure like this (and I take it that the point of this thread is to look at the sorts of things journalists need to consider in order to handle statistics like this critically) is, “How was the sample collected, and with what intent?”

  • Mike

    Shouldn’t the reporters have asked the bishops for their reaction to the survey? (Since I haven’t read the full reports, I’m only assuming no official from the church was asked to respond.)

    I can already anticipate what a bishop would say: “The Catholic Church doesn’t take votes on moral issues.”

    If it did, I’d hate to think how the Ten Commandments would fare!

  • Steve

    NPR News Hour came to our parish, Church of the Holy Ghost in Denver, two weekends ago, and interviewed parishioners after a very strong homily from the priest on the HHS mandate. I talked to the interviewer afterwards (lapsed Catholic from Boulder), and she bemoaned the fact that she could not find anyone, including any women, who disagreed with the bishops or the priest’s homily.

  • Beate

    It seems like the statistics as a whole rather dismiss most of us NFP mommas – often we are post-partum or ttc. Yup, most of us actually have our dc on purpose ;-) Maybe someone would like to sample practicing Catholic homeschooling moms – me thinks the statistics might be quite different.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Friends!

    Please keep discussion focused on media coverage of the issue and not the underlying issue itself.

  • Francine

    http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/Religion-and-Contraceptive-Use.pdf

    THE ACTUAL REPORT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Any skeptics on this site read it for yourself.

  • bob

    A more useful figure to report (a little more complicated) might have been to estimate what the usual family size among Roman Catholics. More in the old days, much fewer now, and infer. It IS fewer now, I infer a whole bunch of birth control being utilized.

  • Dan

    Steve’s #30 is really damning.

    Here’s a question NPR and the other 99%ers in the press should be asking: If 99% of women already are using birth control, why is it so critical that birth control be included in Obamacare? What this whole controversy is about is not access to birth control – that access already exists, obviously — but, rather, having the government endorse birth control as a positive good. As bob (#34) notes, family size has plummeted. Let’s see a report about the current effort to institutionalize a de facto policy of sterilizing the populace.

  • northcoast

    Lies, damned lies and 98 percent of Catholic women
    Surely I am not the only one who saw this title and thought immediately of the phrase, incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain, about figures not lying but liars being able to figure. (Actually these days liars too often are good at just pulling figures out of the ether.) Being an engineer I look for correct derivation of figures and correct presentation of facts. Neither on can be expected in political arguments, and journalists don’t seem to be concerned about fact checking.

  • Martha

    R9, obviously some of the women were identifying as Catholic in a manner meaning cultural or ethnic background. If you’re not practicing your faith, do you really belong to that faith? It’s a tricky question.

    But for the purposes of this survey, and the use that is being made of the figure, I think that “majority of self-identified Catholics are really secular in most ways and are only Catholic the same way they’re second-, third- or fourth-generation Irish/Polish/Hispanic/Italian” users of contraception do make a difference. Now, if 30% of weekly Mass-goers (and so the ones who are fairly involved in their faith) are using contraception, that’s notable – but it’s a far cry from “practicing Catholics who regularly attend church, receive the sacraments, are involved in parochial life and evangelisation, and are 84%/98% disobedient to Church teaching”.

    What about if the media were using a figure of “98% of Democrats” think that the administration should declare war on Freedonia, but then it transpired that this was a sample of self-identified Democrats, of whom the majority hadn’t voted in the last five elections, weren’t formally members of any political party, couldn’t name two members of the cabinet, and classed themselves as Democrats because their grandparents used to vote for Truman? Do you think the Democratic Party would be swayed in its foreign policy by those results?

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Martha,

    Thanks for the pointer to the Guttmacher numbers. I actually had looked at it recently, but missed that bit. I’m still struggling to understand if that 30% of Mass goers have have used contraception or continue to use it. I dare say most (all) of us have done things the Church teaches – and we knew – to be wrong. Sometimes we knew they were wrong, sometimes we claimed their weren’t really wrong but later realized they were.

    I think it’s Deacon Bresnahan who has pointed out that polls of contemporary Catholics need historical data to be meaningful. Sadly, most reports of Catholic-related data are no more historically situated than they are accurate to start with.

  • Dan Crawford

    I sincerely hope that every mention of NPR on GetReligion is forwarded to NPR. They need to know what a horrid job they are doing. Sadly, their consistently poor work shows up on news stories that aren’t concerned with religion. One wonders why they haven’t renamed themselves National Propaganda Radio.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    DAN:

    That’s a rather straw man comment, since SOME of the religion reporting on NPR is among the best in the business. The quality seems to be rooted in whether the reporters have much practical experience covering religion.

    Barbara Bradley Haggerty remains on of the top talents on the beat.

  • Jim

    Mollie, a few days ago you were bemoaning that the media were ignoring the bishops on this.

    But lately it has been all bishops all the time.

    With all respect my friend, is it now time to rethink your earlier post implying some media conspiracy against the Church?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jim,

    I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you saying this shoddy coverage of a false statistic makes up for ignoring of the bishops’ letters to parishioners? Or am I missing something? I don’t know what you’re getting at.

  • Jim

    And I just read the study. 97% of married Catholic women who do not want children commit mortal sin and use contraceptives.

    I think the media are correct that the all male bishops have no flock on this issue.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jim,

    Again, what study are you referencing? Link/quotes please? And you think the mainstream media are correct to opine about what?

    What does this have to do with journalism?

    We’re not talking about op-eds, in which journalists can opine at will but, rather, how they report statistics and cover a complex topic.

  • sari

    obviously some of the women were identifying as Catholic in a manner meaning cultural or ethnic background. If you’re not practicing your faith, do you really belong to that faith? It’s a tricky question.

    Yes, it is. Someone, Mark Baddeley, I think, posted a link to a much better study on Catholic women’s choices, one which factored church attendance into the mix. I went through many of the associated blog posts but have been unable to find it. Maybe he’ll be kind enough to repost the link for reference.

    The tricky question applies to all religious groups, not just Catholics. I cringe when I hear that some percentage of Jews do this and some other percentage do that. Without defining Jew, something Jews cannot agree upon, the results have little meaning. Here we have the same problem: are people’s stated affiliations reflective of their actual belief systems? The answer isn’t really clear, which makes any poll suspect. About the only truth one can derive from the survey in question is that many self-labeled Catholics deviate from the Church’s teachings.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Friends,

    I’ve had to delete a few comments for straying too far afield from a focus on journalism.

    Also, please remember to link to evidence to substantiate claims or accusations. If you say someone said something or you say a study said something, link and quote, link and quote, link and quote.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    the spin is also pointing out that some “catholic” instututions already carry insurance that pay for these things.

    what is not noted is if the organizations pay for it, or if their employees can electively chose to pay for it with a “rider” to the insurance.

    And they don’t mention when the coverage was added under duress: e.g. DePaul university added coverage only after an EEOC lawsuit.

    One important issue not being discussed at all: That payment is now mandatory for anyone who buys insurance, even those us who are self employed and buy a personal policy can no longer opt out of paying for abortion/contraception, since NO policy will omit this coverage.

    Finally, the head of the CHA is a nun, but she is not a dictator. Her private opinion is being spread around as if she had the authority to speak for the organization before they bothered to poll their members, and are actually lying to those “asking” for clarification: LINK

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    as a doctor, might I add that some of us use “birth control pills” for medical reasons other than contraception?

    Ovarian cysts, heavy periods,irregular cycles, anovulatory cycles, menometrorhagia, and very painful periods are a few of the reasons a Catholic woman (even a virgin) might use these medicines.

  • WomanAtTheWell

    tioedong- That is a very good point. Some women do use the pill for medical reasons as you stated. Therefore, it should be covered by insurance as a needed treatment!

  • WomanAtTheWell

    The statistic is inaccurate.
    However, the point is that Catholics DO USE contraceptives.

    Also, of course women who are pregnant/trying, those who are celibate, and the post-menopause are not included in such statistics. This does not apply to them! It would be like asking how many non-smokers use nicotine gum or patches….it DOES NOT APPLY to them!

  • http://areformedcatholicinthepcusa.blogspot.com Reformed Catholic

    FWIW … Catholic Church teaching does NOT hold that contraceptive use for medical issues (other than for contraception) is a sin. This argument is a non-starter. These types of uses are ALREADY (from what I understand) covered under the health insurance policies of many Catholic institutions.

    The point is not that Catholic women use contraceptives, the point is that the use of a imprecise statistic as justification for conclusions in a news article is just not valid.

  • Julia

    tioedong:

    Thanks for the link. I found this under the “governance” section at the website.

    The CHA Board of Trustees is responsible for overseeing the affairs of CHA and for setting its strategic direction.

    Perhaps this should be mentioned in news articles about the CEO/President of CHA. She is only an “ex officio” member of the Board.

    http://www.chausa.org/Pages/About_CHA/Governance/Overview/

    That’s the same situation in non-profits with which I have been involved – and probably regular corporations, too.
    Any statements to the public usually must be cleared with the Board, particularly if they are controversial.

    I noted that Archbishop Dolan did not immediately respond because he needed to first caucus with the relevant chairpersons at the USCCB.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Image of woman excluded from Guttmacher survey via Shutterstock.

    Made me laugh.

    I’m enjoying these one-liners on the pictures almost as much as the posts.

  • Ann

    New Poll

    According to a survey, conducted between Feb. 8-13, 61 percent of Americans support federally-mandated contraception coverage for religiously-affiliated employers; 31 percent oppose such coverage. The number is similar among self-professed Catholics surveyed: 61 percent said they support the requirement, while 32 percent oppose it. Majorities of both men and women said they are in favor of the mandate, though support among women is especially pronounced, with 66 percent supporting and 26 percent opposing it. Among men, 55 percent of men are in favor; 38 percent object.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57377864-503544/poll-most-back-mandating-contraception-coverage/?tag=contentMain;contentBody

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Ann,

    Yes, amazingly bad wording on that poll. If you mention religious liberty at all, or that religious institutions might object to something on the grounds of doctrine, those numbers are dramatically different.

    That it would come from a “mainstream” media outlet makes the wording all the worse.

  • James Lacey

    Regardless of all this quibbling over the exact percentage of Catholic women who actually use contraceptives, I think it is clear that the great majority of such women do use contraceptives. I think of the Church in a broad sense, consisting mostly of the laity with the bishops representing a small but significant minority. In my mind the Church has already “voted” in favor of contraceptives and the community of bishops will change its mind as the older men are replaced by younger men (and women???).

  • http://themcj.com Christopher Johnson

    The claims by secular media organizations that this or that percentage of Catholics ignore church teachings on contraception are irrelevant and basically meaningless. No studie have been done on this but I feel fairly confident that 100% of male Christians, Catholic or non-Catholic, ignore Matthew 5:27-28 on a regular basis but Christian churches aren’t and shouldn’t say that that matters in the slightest.

  • John Pack Lambert

    People here have allowed the journalists to frame this issue. If a person who employs 100 people in his bakery thinks it is wrong to use contraception, than on what basis does the government have the right to force him to do so? The issue is whether the business owner religiously objects to paying for the procedure or not, it does not matter what his employees think.

    RFRA requires the government to provide the least restrictive method. The government directly funding all contraceptive coverage would be less restrictive and not as directly force funding of an objected to procedure. Thus the HHS mandates fail on those grounds. They also fail because they exempt employers who employ below a certain number of employees, thus admitting that the issue is not about a compelling governmental interest to get contraceptive coverage, but about a personal vendetta on the part of the HHS secretary against the Catholic Church.

  • Ghostsouls

    They picked the people to respond in the poll the way THEY wanted the outcome to be. Now, let’s use their trick… Let me take a poll, using 1,000 Catholic women, that practice ABSTINENCE, the polling results would be that 100% of the women DO NOT use the type of contraceptives, in question. So, their poll means absolutely nothing. To suggest that 98% of all Catholic women are running around getting sterilized, using birth control pills, getting abortions, getting IUD’s, getting surgically implanted devices and using condoms, gives everyone the impression that Catholic women are promiscuous. Their numbers are false, they use the same calculator the obama uses to calculate the debt and the jobless numbers with. They purposely excluded women, they KNEW would not answer they way they wanted. This is called propaganda.

  • http://truthinesswillsetyoufree.blogspot.com/ A.Reese

    I found this website almost a week ago and this is just now getting out? LOL… I guess they really don’t want the public to know that only 24.8% of ALL WOMEN have used the pill or IUD. Guess that would cause a little bit of confusion since this is one of the greatest needs this country has – to have free birth control.

    Check this out! http://truthinesswillsetyoufree.blogspot.com/

    Oh, she (I think “she”) even sets the stats right on the Catholic Church.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    So the figure is that 30% of practicing Catholic women use artificial contraception.

    No. It is that 30% of Catholic {women of childbearing age who want to have sex but not get pregnant} claim to attend Mass weekly. From that, you cannot deduce anything about practicing Catholics. Always stop and ask “30% of what total?”

    Also, of course women who are pregnant/trying, those who are celibate, and the post-menopause are not included in such statistics. This does not apply to them! It would be like asking how many non-smokers use nicotine gum or patches….it DOES NOT APPLY to them!

    And that was precisely the point of the post! In statistical terms: an inference drawn from a sample applies only to the population whose members had some specified probability of entering the sample. Guttmacher was not trying to estimate “What % of X use contraceptives?” They were trying to find out “What % of women trying to have sex but not babies use which type of contraceptive, and does this vary based on religious background?” That is, they wanted to examine the population of women-who-want-to-avoid-pregnancy to determine which forms of contraception they favored.
    + + +
    I would have to got back and re-read, which I am disinclined to do, but I don’t know that Guttmacher went out and interviewed anyone. They analyzed a data base, iirc.
    + + +

    Next, for people who want to eat whatever they want and not get fat, we will have government-mandated emetic coverage; and perhaps vomitoria for those wanting to rid themselves of the “product of digestion.”
    + + +

    BTW, if Brandon is right about 30% of women in the DB being excluded because they were not sexually active, or had never had sex, and the 98% must be reduced by the 11% who did not want children but used crossed fingers as their method of choice, then the (98-11)% must be taken of the (100-30)%, which makes it now 61%.
    + + +

    PS. Love the phrase “at risk” of pregnancy.

  • http://faithvictoria.wordpress.com steve weatherbe

    one thing this 98 per cent statistic points up is that ex-Catholics continue to self-identify as Catholics long after they stop practising, while ex-Protestants stop telling pollsters they are Prots and ex-Democrats stop being counted as Dems. This is going to boost the number for any poll seeking to show “Catholics” in rebellion against their bishops. Except in reality, 70 per cent of those being counted as Catholics just aren’t
    Catholics any more. It’s not their faith, not their bishops, not their hospitals and not their schools whose freedom is being infringed on.
    The pollsters at Pew Forum on religion wasted no time releasing their data on this issue, and they distinguished between pracising Catholics and lapsed. They found that even among the practising, artificial contraception is no big deal, but maybe more interestingly, all Catholics, even the lapsed, opposed Obama’s forcing Catholic institutions to insure contraception and abortion.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Since the mandate is to cover contraception as “preventative care”, would this not mean that a medical plan could actually refuse to cover non-contraceptive (against ovarian cyst, etc.) uses of the various drugs that are used to prevent contracepcion? Since this provision is not tied to a perscription drug coverage as have most state-level contraceptcion coverage mandates, this is actually a valid question.

    If the media is going to bring up non-contraceptive use of contraceptions, they should point out that the coverage requirement seems to only apply to the use of these things for contraceptive use. It would appear that at least in theory plans can still refuse non-contraceptive use. How they would go about catching people who tried to falsely claim contraceptive use might be another issue, but as the policies are written it seems this is a total non-issue. It seems this requirement only applies to covering contraception, not covering ovarian cyst treatment and the like. If there is a mandated coverage of ovarian cyst treatment it would be seperate and not objected to on religious grounds.

    The media is not only debating things that are not the core issues, but they are bringing up cases that are not relevant to the issue at all. If Seibelius wanted to cover treatments for ovarian cysts, that is what she should have required. That is not what the mandated thing is, it is speciifcally mandating coverage of measures to prevent the “disease” of being pregnant. The mandate does not require certain medications be always covered, only that they be coveraged when used to prevent pregnancy.

  • http://EdinburghEye.wordpress.com EdinburghEye

    “Image of woman excluded from Guttmacher survey via Shutterstock.”

    How do you know?

    Most women – including most Catholic women – want to plan how many children they have, and when to have them. For this purpose, they use birth control. The odds are the woman in the photograph is among the vast majority of women who use birth control when they don’t want to get pregnant, and thus ensure every child they have is a wanted child.

    The Catholic Church has clearly long since concluded that using contraception is not a sin. It’s for the most part, only the celibate and ignorant hierarchy that think it ought to be.

  • Pasquino

    What does it matter if the 98% were correct a statistic? Does this mean that if 98% of us have driven under the influence of alcohol once in our lives that the laws against drunken driving should be abolished?

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    The Catholic Church has clearly long since concluded that using contraception is not a sin.

    No more than she has decided that theft is not a sin even though nearly everyone has pilfered office supplies. Or perhaps EdinburghEye supposes that moral standards are decided by popular vote? Or even by individual will? Nietzsche has not served us well since the triumph of the will.

    Or perhaps only that he approves of the degradation of women to objects of sexual availability consequent to their “liberation”?

  • Paul

    This article is wrong.

    The women excluded were the ones who obviously don’t need contraception and therefore, obviously don’t use it.

    The remainder constitute a large and consistent sample group. Survey the excluded women at a time when they are sexually active and not wishing to fall pregnant and 98% of them will use contraception too.