With Catholic bishops and the Obama administration still locked in a battle over the president’s plan to  require that all health plans provide free birth control,  The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler has noted that one oft-repeated statement by the media has now seemingly become a fact, even though it is inaccurate.

Yesterday that “fact” was given more prominence when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi mentioned it during her press briefing.

“98 percent of Catholic women, I am told by all of you, use birth control to determine the size and timing of their families.”

Pelosi’s reference to “all of you” meaning the media piqued Kessler’s curiosity and so he looked into where that figure came from and he found that the mainstream media has used it as if it was an undisputed fact.  That’s because the media wanted to give the impression that the president’s initiative is really no big deal since virtually all Catholic women have used birth control at one time or another in their lives.

“Birth-control is widely used even by Catholics: 98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.”

— The Washington Post, Feb. 12

“Birth-control is widely used even by Catholics: 98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.”

— National Public Radio, Feb. 10

“Studies have shown that 98 percent of Catholic women have used artificial contraception at some time in their lives.”

—The New York Times, Feb. 10

But,as Kessler points out, the figure which came from an April 2011 study written by Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke of the Guttmacher Institute, has been misinterpreted by the media.

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 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 data behind 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.”

But by counting women who may have used some form of contraception only once as part of the 98%, the Guttmacher Institute has only distorted the picture even further.

I would venture to say there are plenty of Catholic women who used birth control once and only once and yet it appears that thanks to the wording the media uses that it is widespread even though as Kessler points out that the numbers are lower for the overall Catholic population since the study focuses only on women between the ages of 15-44.

While the media isn’t involved in a complete lie, it’s a half-truth at best and since Guttmacher started off as an arm of Planned Parenthood, the data should be looked at with a jaundiced eye to boot.

Pelosi’s 98% mention at the  2:58 mark.

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