Statistical Manipulation: Do 98 Percent Of Women Really Use Birth Control?

Terri LaPoint

It is a statistic cited as a foregone conclusion by various politicians and pundits. "98 percent of women use birth control." It's as if anyone who doesn't believe that number has been hiding under a rock or is willfully ignorant of the facts. But where does that number come from? Is it even true? Or could it be that it is a misleading statistic, designed to be sensational, inflaming the passions of women for political gain?

Recently, Democratic strategist Christy Setzer threw out the birth control statistic near the end of a discussion with PolitiChick Dr. Gina Loudon on FOX'sNeil Cavuto show in a segment about the "war on women" controversy. They were addressing a couple of recent statements made by Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in which she compares Republican governors to abusers giving "the back of his hand" to women.

Along with PolitiChicks Ann-Marie Murrell and Morgan Brittany, fellow authors of What Women Really Want, Dr. Gina has argued that Democrats have charged Republicans with waging a "war on women," all the while ignoring issues that truly matter to women, such as economic and national security. Like many women, Dr. Gina is weary of women's issues being relegated to solely women's reproductive organs and birth control.

"Democrats have been much more concerned about how much free birth control women are getting than they have been concerned about women around the world being raped, insulted, and stoned to death."

Loudon's closing comment expressed her frustration with politicians trying to buy women's votes over birth control. "Most women can afford their own $15 a month [for birth control], and their vote is not for sale for $15 a month. I'm sorry, it's just not."

By then, the segment was out of time, so Dr. Gina was not able to respond to the statistic, but she later did so on her own social media, stating that she wished she had just a few more moments to rebut the 98 percent birth control statistic.

Birth Control Statistic Post

If that 98 percent figure sounds pretty high, that is because it is.

First of all, 98 percent of women are not even in their childbearing years -- at all. Post-menopausal women certainly comprise more than 2 percent of all women in the U.S., yet they don't need birth control at all. In fact, the studies that look at usage of birth control generally exclude post-menopausal women from the studies.

The Guttmacher Institute, former arm of Planned Parenthood, is typically considered the go-to source for statistics on birth control. The studies they link to on their fact sheet on contraceptive use are from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Two of the primary studies used, from 2012 and 2013, only include data on women ages 15 to 44. Already, the 98 percent statistic is blown.

The 2013 study actually says that 99 percent, not 98 percent, of women have ever used birth control. "Have ever" are the key words here. Out of all the women ages 15 to 44 (so not all women), most have EVER used some form of birth control, at some point in their lives. This number includes women who tried the pill and didn't like the side effects.

Women who have had their tubes tied or have had a hysterectomy were not included. Also, "Women aged 15–44 living on military bases or in institutions were not included in the survey." They weren't even counted.

Dr. Gina's assessment is correct that the number does not include women using natural methods. Included in the 98 percent figure are women who have used either the withdrawal method or periodic abstinence. Neither of these methods cost insurance companies a dime, yet women who use these methods are conveniently thrown into the numbers. Periodic abstinence includes women who are not sexually active, and women who use either the calendar rhythm method or Natural Family Planning (NFP), and breastfeeding mothers who are using the Lactational Amenorrhea Method.

When discussing birth control that some groups want government or insurance providers to cover, none of these methods should figure in, because they aren't using any type of device or drug that can be paid for. They are free. They are also fairly common.

"Similar percentages of women had ever used periodic abstinence by calendar in 2006–2010 (18%) as had in 1982 (17%)."

Birth Control Statistical Manipulation

The 2012 study broke down the data a bit differently. It, too, looked at women of childbearing years -- between 15 and 44. Whereas the 2013 study examined data from women who have ever used birth control, the 2012 study looked at current usage of the various birth control methods. The Guttmacher Institute refers to this study in its fact sheet statement, "Some 62% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method." That number is quite a bit lower than the 98 percent number thrown away by politicians.

However, a closer look at Table 1 in that study shows that 62 percent is still higher than the number of women actually using birth control methods that can be bought or sold because it includes as birth control methods things like Natural Family Planning, the calendar rhythm method, withdrawal, as well as female and male sterilization. When only the women who have had their tubes tied or a hysterectomy are excluded, the number comes down to 45.7 percent.

When all of the women using methods that are not tangible birth control methods under the control of insurance companies and politicians, the actual real number of women, only among those of childbearing years 15 to 44, who are using birth control is less than one in three.

31.1 percent of women of childbearing age actually use birth control methods that can be covered by insurance.

[images from Musical Musings, screenshot from Facebook, and the Daily Beast]