There is a meme used regularly in the HHS mandate debate concerning how many Catholic women adhere to their Church's teaching concerning contraceptives. The government's push to make Catholic institutions provide contraceptives in their health plans is based on this 2011 Guttmacher study, which claims that 98% of Catholic women contracept. It begins with this snarky and condescending tone:
The debate over contraception has long been settled in real-life America. At some point in her life, virtually every woman in the United States uses at least one contraceptive method. Likewise, contraceptive services are recognized by government bodies, professional health care organizations and a wide range of other experts as a vital component of preventive and public health care.
Even so—and despite the strong body of evidence demonstrating that contraceptive use and the prevention of unintended pregnancy improves the health and social and economic well-being of women and their families—contraception continues to be perceived as controversial among some policymakers and is opposed by the Catholic hierarchy and some other socially conservative organizations.
So already we have labeled the pro-contraceptive side to be based on "real life" and health-enhancing, while suggesting that the social conservatives are warbling about a non-existent controversy from their flat-earth perches. It's obvious where this is going, but even the 98% will look absurd to anyone to takes the time to remember that a large chunk of Catholic women are beyond the child-bearing years, many are not in relationships -- and heck, a great number are Religious. So how do we dissect the study?
Thankfully, this sharp cookie, Lydia McGrew, already has, noting a key point:
The relevant tables are Figure 3 on p. 6 and the second Supplementary Table on p. 8. The survey was limited to women between 15-44. Ah, well, that explains how we weren't including the elderly, but it also means that the silly "percent of all Catholic women" thing should be chucked out right from the beginning. More strikingly, as Neil pointed out to me after looking up the study, it excluded any women who were a) not sexually active, where that is defined as having had sexual intercourse in the past three months (there go all the nuns), b) postpartum, c) pregnant, or d) trying to get pregnant! In other words, the study was specifically designed (as the prose discussion on p. 8 makes explicit, in bold print) to include only women for whom a pregnancy would be unintended and who are "at risk" of becoming pregnant. Whether or not it included women who considered themselves neither trying nor not trying to get pregnant (there are some such women in the world) is unclear. It's also unclear whether it included women who have had their reproductive organs removed because of some medical problem. Presumably the study was intended to exclude women in both of these categories, as neither would count as a woman "at risk of an unintended pregnancy."
So we have excluded at least half of Catholic women from the start, as well as those who are hoping to conceive, those who are pregnant, and those who are unmarried and living chastely. Think about that: We want to know what Catholic women think about birth control, but we'll start by NOT talking to chaste, single women. Excluding those who will skew the results of a sample is not good scientific practice in most fields, but perfectly acceptable when bullying the Church is the end-game.
The author of the blog post adds another key point later:
Upon reflection, I have realized clearly an additional major problem with the 98% statistic. It is including all the Catholic women who expressly told researchers that they used "no method" to avoid pregnancy. In the table, that is 11%. The 98% statistic is apparently derived by subtracting only the 2% who said that they used NFP from 100%. So women who said they used no method of contraception are apparently being included in a statistic about how many Catholic women use contraception. How's that for crazy? And that's in addition to the problems discussed already in the original post.
So we can easily see that the 98% claim is absurd. It is sad that many Catholic women don't see the wisdom of the Church's teaching on conjugal love, but don't be flummoxed by the crazy claim touted by the government. There's a lot of catechesis to be done, but we're not as bad off as the secularists would have us believe.