Guttmacher: most Catholic women use artificial birth control

Guttmacher: most Catholic women use artificial birth control April 14, 2011

And the statistics, if accurate, show that Catholics practice contraception at almost the same rate as other religious groups.


A new report from the Guttmacher Institute, the nonprofit sexual health research organization, shows that only 2 percent of Catholic women, even those who regularly attend church, rely on natural family planning.

The latest data shows practices of Catholic women are in line with women of other religious affiliations and adult American women in general.

“In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible,” said the report’s lead author Rachel Jones.

She said most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant practice contraception, and most use highly effective methods like sterilization, the pill, or the intrauterine device (IUD).

“This is true for Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, and it is true for Catholics, despite the Catholic hierarchy’s strenuous opposition to contraception,” Jones said.

Nearly 70 percent of Catholic women use sterilization, the birth control pill or an IUD, according to the Guttmacher Institute research.

The numbers are slightly higher among women who identify as Evangelicals or Mainline Protestants, research showed.

You can read more here. And Guttmacher’s release on the subject, with links to the report, can be found here.  Among the findings:

  • 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 among Catholic women (98%).
  • Among sexually active women of all denominations who do not want to become pregnant, 69% are using a highly effective method (i.e., sterilization, the pill or another hormonal method, or the IUD).
  • Some 68% of Catholic women use a highly effective method, compared with 73% of Mainline Protestants and 74% of Evangelicals.
  • Only 2% of Catholic women rely on natural family planning; this is true even among Catholic women who attend church once a month or more.
  • More than four in 10 Evangelicals rely on male or female sterilization, a figure that is higher than among the other religious groups.

As a few readers have pointed out, Guttmacher isn’t exactly impartial on this issue.  They have an agenda.  Its Wikipedia entry notes that it is “a semi-autonomous division of The Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Center was renamed in memory of Alan Frank Guttmacher, an Ob/Gyn and former president of Planned Parenthood.”

So: consider the source.

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22 responses to “Guttmacher: most Catholic women use artificial birth control”

  1. The Guttmacher Institute is the “think tank” funded by pro-choice groups. I am surprised you would be posting this garbage without commentary. Disappointing!

  2. The Church has done a terrible job in forming people on this issue.

    In my opinion, this is not a simple issue to catechize either because the reasons go into the Eucharistic meaning of nuptial love as a gift of self that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful, how nuptial love is a participation in the inner life of the Holy Trinity.

    It is also not working because society has formed people at a far eariler age, so any Church goers already come to the table formed by secular views.

    In my experience, there are priests that aren’t on-board with this teaching either. When the ministerial priesthood on the local level doesn’t seem to be in agreement either, it certainly sends mixed signals.

    Our Eastern Orthodox brothers/sisters recognize that contraception is a matter of pastoral economy. Orthodox priests grant this to married couples on a case by case basis recognizing the fallen-ness and difficulty of people to place this aspect of their lives in trusting faith to God.

    It is pretty clear that this teaching has not been received by many millions of Catholics.
    Some say that this teaching will have to be re-visited because the sensus fidelium which has always been considered to be evidence of the infallibility of a revealed truth, clearly seems to not be the case here.

    Making matters worse is that the priest sex scandal has created a very large credibility gap. Many people (right or wrong), simply see that the Bishops have no credibility to “tell married couples what to do” when this scandal has become so large and widespread.

    There is so much against this teaching right now, I can’t see how this trend can ever change.

  3. I think it takes a lot of courage and faith in God to use NFP during a marriage. I say this with deep trepidation, but the biggest draw back I’ve encountered is an unwillingless on behalf of my husband to abstain. I think a lot of men who grew up in the Post Pill era have never been told that they can’t have sex, ever. It’s really hard to get someone to change in a marriage. And the times that I’ve had to give in to him, and I went to confession, I’ve never had a priest give me a hard time about it. They seem to have much more mercy than some of the Catholic commenters on any discussion about NFP on blogs.

    Most of our friends are Catholic and go to Church regularly. Just about all of them are sterilized. We seem to be the only hold outs. The other issue is that it is really expensive to have a large family where I live (Metro NY area). Just to live in a nice town costs a bundle. Most people would love to have more children, I think, but they are gripped with fear. Fear about the costs of college, fear about their jobs and mortgages. It’s not like the 50s anymore where you could have a nice living on one salary and send all your children to Catholic school and colleges without incurring a lot of debt or having a huge Wall Street job.

  4. Dan S: the teaching is the truth and with God all things are possible. The Orthodox have deviated from the received teaching in this, and they will have to give account for it.

    One comment on methology: they use self-described Catholic and then separate those women who go to Church once a month or more.

    Once a month or more??? That leave room for missing 3+ obligated attendances at Mass every month!

    Those women need to be evangelized in a much more general way: if they don’t go to Mass, OF COURSE they will use contraception, duh.

    I want to see the survey of Catholic women who go to Mass ever Sun and HDO, and confession regularly. If any of them use contraception (surely some do), may they learn to accept the Church’s teaching so that they can be a leaven.

  5. Dev Thakur –

    There is some data to help answer your question. If the 2% number is correct (and I have no idea how that survey was done and therefore how reliable the numbers), the vast majority of Catholic women who go to confession regularly and Mass on Sundays and Holy Days are probably using contraception. As a rough estimate I’m taking 10% of Catholics as practicing by your definition. If 10% are practicing and 2% don’t use contraception, 8% do.

    The sort of solution you are suggesting (go to Mass) might not be the way to go, if this is true.

  6. We really need to present Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body clearly and completely.

    It seems to me that the vast majority of our people understand the teaching on contraception to be “The Vatican forbids artificial contraception.” In other words, it’s no more than a rule which the Vatican has arbitrarily decided to impose on the faithful. And they see no good rationale for the rule.

    If they could understand that it is something which flows from the very beauty of their marital sex as the image of God, I think it would make a big difference.

    Breaking through the current lack of understanding is going to be a huge task, and one that will probably take a long time. While we work at it, there will be a delicate balance needed to maintain the truth while having pastoral compassion toward the many who “know not what they do” because they have been formed by the culture.

  7. Dev Thakur,

    A case can be made that Catholics have deviated as well. Except for very few exceptions, the ancient Church unilaterally taught that marital intercourse was for procreation only. the only exception I can think of is a homily of St. John Chrysostom in the East. That the marital embrace is both unitive and procreative and that both are legitimate ends to intercourse is a development, to be sure.

    So, in a certain sense, the pastoral provision to allow the practice NFP is a deviation as well. NFP recognizes pastoral economy. The Orthodox have taken the same route; recognizing pastoral economy is valid and legitimate in the authority given to those who are spiritual Fathers. I would be hesitant to say that the Orthodox have deviated on a teaching since they are far less likely to develop anything, but hold fast to the most ancient tradition without change. They are real and true Churches that have preserved both the Sacraments and the Apostolic Tradition in the East.

    So, in my opinion, the issue comes in how that pastoral economy is practiced, not in it’s legitimate use.

    That being said, i’ll bet that a large portion of the contraceptive using Catholics don’t give a rip about what their spiritual Father (i.e. confessor) says.

  8. Notice the underlying assumption in the phrase “highly effective methods” in contrast to what? Highly ineffective methods? Notice how it polarizes the two?

    NFP, if used correctly, is safer & more highly effective than artificial contraception. What if women used the pill as incorrectly as they do NFP? What if men used condoms as incorrectly?

    Another factor is what was the breakdown of Church attendance? Were the majority of those surveyed Catholics who are not practising their faith?

  9. I think the Church has erred on the allowing of NFP. Most people think of it as Catholic contraception and therefore see little wrong in using another form of contraception. With NFP, the couple is still sexually active while maintaining control over procreation which has traditionally belonged to God.

    I have always felt like it was a cave-in by the Church to allow couples to avoid children and still have sex purely for pleasure. I think it is a position that has led to much confusion (and therefore sin) and doesn’t do enough to combat modern ideas about sex for pleasure being everyone’s “right” and expectation, which in turn leads to more resistance to responsible abstinance.

  10. I’m sure it is difficult, not to mention uncomfortable for a priest to talk about it, but they should!

    Sadly, I used the pill for about 10 years, I knew the teaching of the church but ignored it. Until….. I heard a priest give a sermon about why it was wrong. When you hear it from a person of authority, in persona Christi, it’s hard to ignore.

  11. Deacon Greg. Sometimes you present these stories, but provide little commentary. I sometimes wonder what you would like us to conclude.

    What do you have to say about these statistics and the state of Catholic behavior in these regards? Do you think this is great, not great, or just think it is interesting?

  12. The Catholic women who use artificial birth control are those that feel having sex is more than just for pro-creation. It is a way to be with your husband, to enjoy the act and not have to worry that a child or yet another child might be conceived. Why should a group of men who are supposed to be celibate tell women they can’t artifically prevent conception until they are ready to get pregnant. Making love to your spouse, IMO, shouldn’t be based on a calendar. Certainly kills some of the fun and spontaneity of a loving relationship.

    Also, doesn’t NFP have the same purpose? Not conceiving? So what difference does it make how that purpose is achieved?

  13. Janet’s point is well made. What are these “highly effective methods”? Check out Guttmacher’s own data on perfect use vs. typical use of contraceptives:

    The pill has an 8% failure rate under typical (normal) use. It all gets worse from there. NFP boasts better numbers than Guttmacher’s.

    As for the “Ever” use of contraceptives by Catholic women (99%), this includes all of the girls who were put on the pill to regulate their cycles when they were teens and college students, those put on the pill to help treat endometriosis, etc. So the number is hardly indicative of mass rebellion on that scale. The 99% also involves any girl whose boyfriend ever used a condom as a teen.

    What the number does not tease apart is the percentage of Catholic women who are married and using birth control for the express purpose of contraception in marriage. When the 99% figure gets bandied about, it’s always done so indiscriminately.

  14. pagansister — “Why should a group of men who are supposed to be celibate tell women they can’t artifically prevent conception until they are ready to get pregnant.” Because they are the people God has set in authority in his Church to answer questions about what to believe and how to behave. (And, BTW, they do not have a conflict of interest in this matter.)

    Your question sounds as if you subscribe to the mistaken view which I mentioned in my earlier post, namely that the teaching on contraception is simply a man-made rule, imposed on the faithful by the Vatican, rather than the Magisterium’s discernment of the will of God — a discernment growing from the application of reason to scripture and tradition with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    I know you do not share the faith which sees the Church in this way, but for those who are in the Church, it is regrettable that many do not seem to grasp the distinction between law and moral teaching.

  15. naturgesetz: I think I understand what you’re saying and to a certain extent, I feel that if one belongs to a faith/church then they should follow the rules. (even ones that tell the married women how to not get pregnant, besides cutting her husband off at certain times of the month.) However—and this is just me and my opinion–I find it a little hard to follow that God (whichever one a person believes in) would tell his followers to take changes (as not all women are totally regular with their periods) on getting pregnant if they miscalulate and end up with a child they either can’t afford or don’t want. Yes, to many it is a moral issue—do what God says—but when some of those rules were written (over 2000 years ago) there were I expect some forms of what we would consider crude birth control, used by the women,(and maybe the men—?) to prevent conception. How is it wrong to not want to take a chance on getting pregnant? If it is considered a “gift from God”—-accept all children God gives you—marriage vows in RC weddings) then, and I mean absolutely no disrespect—is that God going to feed that child if there is no food, etc.? There are already so many children born into some very poor countries—that die and suffer—because there is no way the family can feed and clothe her/him I have a hard time with some saying that condoms shouldn’t be used, or the pill shouldn’t be used etc. I know I’m exerating a bit with the example of the really poorer nations and the children that the women can’t prevent (for whatever reason—rape, husband to just doesn’t get it etc. but in this day and age (now I really do show my age) when access to birth control can be easier—-from a non-theological point of view—I just don’t get how a religion continues to tell women not to use anything artificial to not conceive. I’m talking about married women—since this article is about them—single and messing about is a whole other story. :o)

  16. naturgesetz: Above I probably used God and the church interchangably—I realize that you mentioned the rules were/are man made.

  17. pagansister — a couple of years ago I attended a presentation by a doctor who advises couples on NFP. His point, which echoes what I’ve heard elsewhere, is that NFP is easy to understand, easy to follow, and extremely effective. There are physical symptoms in a woman’s vagina which show when a woman is fertile. They take account of irregularities in the cycle. So people can know, and there is no real “taking a chance.”

    The basic point behind all this is the integrity of the marital act which — as John Paul II beautifully explained in his “Theology of the Body — is the way in which husband and wife are most fully the image and likeness of God in a physical way, because their act is the bodily representation of God’s love which is self giving, permanent, and creative. To take an action — such as using a condom or taking a pill — which directly renders the act sterile is to falsify the image of God’s love. In NFP, on the other hand, it is not the couple who prevent the act from leading to pregnancy; it is nature. Even though they know that a pregnancy will not result, it’s not because of something they have done to interfere with the natural act.

    So my point isn’t that Catholics should follow the rules, but that they should use God’s gift as he intended.

  18. When I say “easy to follow,” I mean that a couple can readily observe the symptoms which indicate fertile and non-fertile days. It does require a measure of self-control which may not always be easy.

  19. Actually, in this case, I think the Guttmacher statistics are fairly close. In my personal contacts, the percentages are accurate. Virtually every novus ordo Catholic couple I know practices some sort of birth control.

    Contraception, abortion, and homosexual sex are just three heads of the same serpent.

    Once the physical pleasure of sex is detached from the procreative act, all are justifiable….or at least logical.

    A man and woman who use artificial birth control are reallyt just mutually masturbating, separated from one another by either a chemical, or latex barrier. How can they condemn homosexual who are essentially doing the same thing?

    The contraceptive mentality is extremely destructive to our spiritual well being because it places sterility above fecundity.

    “For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore, and the breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “fall on us!” and to the hills, “cover us!” For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” Luke 23:28-31

  20. naturgesetz, thanks for your well written post explaining NFP. As I think I mentioned earlier—-if one wishes to follow a certain faith—the rules that come with it should be followed. From the article, it seems that many who claim to be Catholic aren’t following the parts regarding birth control.

    Also, forgive the horrible spelling—I type fast and proof reading obviously doesn’t always get done.

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