Friday, March 2, 2012

Counting and Target Practice

I have been hearing lately that 98% of Catholics have used contraceptives...
Or maybe it was 98% of Catholics currently use contraceptives...
Or maybe it was 98% of Catholic women...
There was a lot of confusion surrounding the figures people were citing. They weren't sure what the numbers counted, but they counted something and the number was definitely 98. So I decided to do a bit of research, myself, and here is what I found:
The accusation is based on THIS STUDY. I read all of it, but you don't have to. let us just look at the chart. This chart tells us that 83% of the Catholic women interviewed use a type of contraceptive obviously condemned by the Catholic Church. 4% use "Other" (strange techniques also condemned by the Church). 11% admit to using no method at all, and only 2% claim Natural Family Planning. Get out your calculators now, people.
98% (what everyone keeps spouting) +
2% (NFP) +
11% (nothing at all)=
That's right. One hundred and eleven percent. Do you see something wrong here? In case you didn't catch it, the elevent percent of Nothing-Users were lumped together with the artificial contraceptive users. Last time I looked, "No Method" meant "No Method," not "Contraceptive." Therefore, based on the numbers of this study, one could at most conclude that 87% of Catholic women are currently using contraceptives.
Let us not forget the confusion surrounding what the numbers counted, though. Who, exactly, make up these numbers? Well, they are women. They are sexually active (i.e. had intercourse in the last three months). They are ages 15 to 44. They are not post-partum. They are not pregnant. They do not want to be pregnant. If that isn't clear enough, it's under chart three, under the supplementary chart, and in bold on page eight.

Furthermore, less than a third of these women take seriously
their Sunday obligation:
So who do the numbers not count?
Women who obey the Church by valuing children and so becoming pregnant.
Women who obey the Church by valuing children and being willing to become pregnant.
Women who obey the Church and practice chastity (continence).
Who do the numbers count?
A large number of women who don't go to Mass, disregard the Church's teaching on abstinence, and disregard the Church's teaching to be open to children.
Do you mean to say that "98%" of Catholics least likely to obey the Church's teaching on sexuality use contraception?!? They actually did a study for that?

....I see Captain Obvious is well employed.
When the Church preaches that we should be open to having children, and you are doing a study on the percentage of Catholics who adhere to Church teaching on the matter, it is more than a little fishy to exclude everyone willing to have children. Hint: the faithful Catholics were either pregnant or willing to become pregnant. Why? Because they are faithful.

"Yes, the study is targeted. But that's necessary. It's a study on contraceptive use, of course they are only going to study those women who need contraceptives!"

If this is what someone tells you--or if you are thinking this yourself--the point has been missed. Let me expound.

If I make the claim that 98% of computer users employ a mouse, I would not cite a study that only interviewed desktop users. Why? Because that study doesn't support my claim. It would only support my claim if my claim were, "98% of desktop users use a mouse" or "98% of an unknown fraction of computer users use a mouse."

Perhaps the Guttmacher institute had a reason for so restricting their study (riiight), but the fact remains that the claim "Catholic women don't follow the Church as regards contraceptives" is still a lie. 98% of Catholic women do NOT use artificial birth control. 98% of sexually active Catholic women who aren't pregnant, post-partum, and do not want to become pregnant, use artificial birth control.

Given that we do not know what fraction of sexually active Catholic women--much less Catholic women in general--actually met the requirements for the study, it is a very big leap to then say that the majority of the Church has accepted artificial birth control, and that the celibate heirarchy is just "catching up."

"98% of an unknown percent of sexually active women of an unknown percent of Catholic women" is not a very convincing premise, and it is the only premise the Guttmacher study gives us. It leaves out too many Catholics to give an accurate percent of our more rebellious sisters.
Some people don't like to face the obvious, however, so no doubt when you mention those abstaining, someone is going to point to chart two...
...and say only 30% of never-married Catholics are abstaining. They will then try to tell you that the remaining 70% are included in chart three, and that 98% of the 70% of unmarried women therefore use contraceptives, which is still a high enough number to prove that most Catholic women don't listen to the Pope (or something along these lines.)

People like this are grasping. That 98% is a dearly loved figure that no one wants to let go of. The problem with this reasoning is that it assumes that all 70% of never-married Catholic women fit the requirement for chart three. This may not be so. They may be willing to become pregnant. They may not be sexually active. Of, yes, Guttmacher says they are "sexually experienced," but that could mean they had sex only once in their lives. It does not necessarily follow that they are "sexually active." We don't know what fraction of this 70% meets the restrictions for chart three, so we cannot try to apply the figures in chart three to them. Note, also, that chart two describes them as "never-married," not "unmarried." We don't know the number of never-married Catholic women to all Catholic women, therefore making it an even bigger leap from "sexually experienced" to "the majority of Catholic women don't follow the Church's teaching on birth control."

So next time someone comes to you and tells you that 98% of Catholic women use contraceptives, show them Guttmacher's target practice and teach them how to count. Be nice; anyone could have missed it, and we all know no one actually reads the studies they cite, anyway. Just thank God for this chance to instruct the ignorant.

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