Monday, February 20, 2012

Are 98% of Catholic Women on Contraceptives?

In a recent blog post, Lydia McGrew considers the statistic dominating recent discussion: Are 98 percent of Catholic women using contraceptives?
Statistical data from the Guttmacher Institute

Simply put: The claim that 98% of Catholic women are using contraceptives is a false claim, derived in a manipulative way from the statistics included in this post. Linda McGrew elaborates of this falsification in her post:

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, itexcluded 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." 
Now, consider what all of this means as far as the representativeness of the sample for Catholic women. Surely there are a fair number of Catholic women between 15-44 who are not "at risk of an unintended pregnancy" for various reasons. It is plausible that this number is higher among Catholics than among non-Catholics. For one thing, a faithful Catholic woman in this age category who is not married is supposed to be remaining celibate. Hence she won't fall into the "at-risk" category, and by the same token she won't have any use for the "services" that the Obama administration is mandating be provided. Similarly, married Catholic women are probably more likely not to be attempting to avoid pregnancy, even using Natural Family Planning, than non-Catholic women. One would think they are also more likely to be pregnant or postpartum. And so on and so forth. In short, the deliberate design of the study to cover only women who, at the time of the study, were having sexual intercourse while regarding a pregnancy as unintended would be likely to make it unrepresentative of Catholics and particularly unrepresentative of devout Catholics. Yet the study is now being cited to show the percentage of Catholic women generally who are not following the teaching of the Catholic Church in this area! What is wrong with this picture?...
The statistics in the Guttmacher study appear to be okay for the purpose for which the study was originally intended. The intention of the study was to answer something like the following question: "Among women of various religious groups who are now sexually active but do not wish to become pregnant, what percentage use different methods of avoiding pregnancy?" But the purpose for which the statistic for Catholic women from the study is now being used is to argue, "A very high percentage of Catholic women (or, perhaps, Catholic women of child-bearing age) are currently not following the Catholic Church's teachings on sex and contraception and have a use for contraception forbidden by the Catholic Church." 
For that purpose, these statistics are bogus... 
Upon reflection, I have realized clearly an additional major problem with the 98% statistic. It is including all the Catholic women whoexpressly 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.

To read her entire post, click here.

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