The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraceptives? Wrong, says FactChecker.

The popular site called looked into the assertion, made by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and repeated without qualification by liberal media acolytes and awarded it two Pinocchios*. The claim is a "media foul," FactChecker said.

Here's what else FactChecker said in part:

But while the study says that 98 percent of “sexually experienced Catholic women” have “ever used a contraceptive method other than natural planning,” the data shown in the [Guttmacher Institute] report does not actually back up that claim. In fact, a supplementary table in the report, on page 8, even appears to undermine that statistic, since it shows that 11 percent of Catholic women currently using no method at all. That has led to criticism of the statistic.

The Guttmacher Institute, citing “confusion” over the statistic, on Wednesday posted the actual databehind it. It turns out it was based on a question that asked self-identified Catholic women who have had sex if they have ever used one of 12 methods of birth control. Jones, in an interview, said the women were asked to answer “yes” or “no” whether they had used each of the different forms; only two percent had said they had used only natural family planning.

In other words, a woman may have sex only once, or she may have had a partner who only used a condom once, and then she would be placed in the 98 percent category. Jones said the correct way to describe the results of the research is this:

“Data shows that 98 percent of sexually experienced women of child-bearing age and who identify themselves as Catholic have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point in their lives.”

One might note that the survey covered only women in a certain age group, so it cannot be said to represent all Catholic women.

Before some readers get too upset, I'd also add that the survey, in fact, says that many, if not most, Catholic women use contraception--a fact that no one, not even the Catholic bishops dispute.

What's so aggravating about this is that the Catholic Bishops put out a statement saying the same thing when this controversy broke, but it was completely ignored. The reporters who passed along this error by rote didn't even have to do their own fact checking. All they had to do was quote the other side (the bishops) even if they didn't believe it.

*"Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people." Actually, I think it deserves Three Pinocchios ("Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions") or Four Pinocchios ("Whoppers")

Here are the facts from

Here is the pertinent chart from Guttmacher.  

Here takes NPR, The Atlantic and other media apart for blinding repeating the 98 percent figure

Hat tip to Blithe Spirit



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  • There in lies the rub-a-dub-double talk Dennis.

    One can not have a conversation with a Progressive. One might nod, nod with conviction, smile vaccuously and depart, but the there is never any balance, let alone curtesy in such a dilactical exercise.

    As my friend and practical politics guru James "Skinny" Sheahan said, " You'll never win the abortion ( sexual health) debate in public with these folks, even though the truth backs your position. It is an exercise in futility."

    They are in it to shout louder and to get in the first "You are hateful."

  • One question that would tend to make this claim absurd on its face: Does anyone think for a second that fully "98% of Catholic women" are even sexually active? Even the 90-year-olds? Even the 18 year olds? Come on. Get real. This "98%" business was an obvious lie from the start.

  • Granted 98% is an hyperbole. Would it be fair to say that a vigorous plurality of sexually active Catholic women between puberty and menopause use contraceptives?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Hyperbole? Dear St. Tom, it's presented as fact, based on scientific research. And, as I said, many if not most Catholic women have used contraception, a fact that no one disputes, so why is the distortion (or hyperbole) necessary in the first place?

  • I don't think it would ever be possible to get a true statistic about how many Catholic women use, or have used contraceptives. Although the fact that most Catholics are no longer having the huge families that they used to (implying a use of contraception), there are many who would still not admit that use.
    While the Catholic church has remained vehemently opposed to contraception, many of us grew up with parish priests and Catholic teachers who believed (and taught) that it was a matter of conscience. So while Catholics might use contraception without a guilty conscience, they might still be reticent about openly discussing that use.

  • The Right Wing doesn't walk the high ground on this either, Dennis. (and #pathickey). Case in point: Senator John Kyl's famous quote "that over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does" relates to abortion services." when in fact the truth is 3 % of Planned Parenthood's business relates to abortion. When CNN challenged his remark, the Senator's office later walked it back as 'his remark was not intended to be a factual statement (!?-my emphasis), but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, a organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions." But Senator Kyl made the statement as "fact"; he never himself said he was exagerating to make a point. Both the Left and the Right are guilty of pushing the envelope, obviously. It's up to journalists to call them on it, which they so rarely do these days.

  • In reply to john m:

    Three percent? You might want to take a closer look at the statistic. I don't think that the three percent represents the percentage of the value of all the services provided. In other words, perhaps only three percent of the PPA's clients get abortions, while the other 97 percent come in for the free condoms, etc. It's apples and oranges. If you look at percent of money spent on the various services, I suspect that you'll get a different figure.

    And shame on Kyle for doing it.

  • In reply to john m:

    John M,

    In Fact Abortion Industry USA -Planned Parenthood is fat and sassy -abortions account for 51.5% of its income and lards in another hefty 46.5 % from Gummint Muny. In a very recent Article in LifeNews Steven Ertelt reports on the pregnant financials at Planned Parenthood.

  • In reply to PatHickey:

    Thanks for the info from LifeNews. Here's where I got my numbers: According to, a project of the Annenberg School of Public Policy, abortions represent 3 percent of total services provided by Planned Parenthood with roughly 10 per cent of their clients receiving abortions. Senator Kyl's original quote was that "90% of what Planned Parent does" is abortion. Regarding the question of revenue, FactCheck says that according to Planned Parenthoods 2008-09 annual report it received $363 million in government grants, about one-third of its revenue for the fiscal year. Some of the government money comes from states, some from the feds. Federal money may not be used to fund abortion, per the Hyde Ammendment. See their analysis here:
    I go back to my original point that it is important for journalists to correct factual errors whenever they are made, whether by the Left or the Right. Unfortunately this is a function of the Fourth Estate that has been largely abdicated, as the wild claims of liberal and conservative politicians all too often go unchallenged.

  • Whether this statistic is true is irrelevant to the debate over the health care law's contraception mandate. The extent of the free exercise clause of the first amendment is all that is relevant. If the law violates the free exercise of religion, it is unconstitutional. If it doesn't, its constitutional. Period. It doesn't matter that an overwhelming majority of Americans use birth control, because the first amendment was ratified as an explicit protection for minority views.

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