One of the oddest justifications of the Obama Administration's mandatory-contraception-coverage rule is that it's fine because "98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception," as the White House puts it. The most vocal advocate of mandatory contraception coverage, liberal writer Kevin Drum, drew this point out to this conclusion:
it's plain that contraception is simply not a moral hot button for Catholics. To put it plainly, it's not a matter of conscience. It's a matter of conscience only for a tiny number of men in the formal hierarchy of the Catholic church. That's it.
While the argument is broadly silly, for reasons Ross Douthat explained here, the factual underpinning of the argument -- the 98% statistic -- does not mean anything close to what the mandaters claim it means. The number comes from the Guttmacher Institute, which is the research arm of Planned Parenthood. Blogger Lydia McGrew looked as deep into the data as she could and realized the numbers really said this: among sexually active women ages 15-44 who do not want to get pregnant, and are using any method to avoid pregnancy, 98 percent use contraception.
McGrew points out that the study excludes women who:
- Are celibate
- Are pregnant
- Just had a baby
- Are trying to get pregnant
Observant Catholics, one might surmise (and my own social circles confirm) are much likelier to fit into any of those categories than the average American woman. The Guttmacher study provides no data on that.
So the 98% number tells us something interesting: very few women, even Catholics, use Natural Family Planning. But it doesn't tell us what the White House and liberal writers thinks it tells us, which is that only Bishops object to contraception.
- Read Kevin Drum's piece that rests on the 98% number. Not only would his logic imply that it's okay to force Jewish restaurants to serve non-Kosher food (since most Jewish people don't keep Kosher), but it also equates a small minority with nobody of consequence. That doesn't seem so liberal to me.
- You should also read Michael Brendan Dougherty and P.E. Gobry's defense of Catholic teaching on contraception.