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Every defense of the HHS mandate, including the administration’s, inevitably has recourse to the statistic apparently proving that ninety-eight percent of Catholic women use contraceptive birth control anyway. As is true with most statistical analysis, a little digging into the study’s methods, restrictions, and controls often uncovers the less shocking reality: The sample population hardly represents the group about which the survey is concerned, the survey excludes variants of the population that actually make up a significant minority, etc. So with the ninety-eight percent of Catholic women actively using birth control.

The  study excludes women who are not sexually active, where this is defined as “sexual intercourse in the past three months,” postpartum, pregnant, or women trying to get pregnant. The study was designed to “include only women for whom a pregnancy would be unintended and who are ‘at risk’ of becoming pregnant.” It is not clear whether the study includes women who are neither trying nor not trying to become pregnant, as well as women who have had their reproductive organs removed because of medical complications.

“The deliberate design of the study to cover only women who, at the time of the study, were having sexual intercourse while regarding a pregnancy as unintended would be likely to make it unrepresentative of Catholics and particularly unrepresentative of devout Catholics. Yet the study is now being cited to show the percentage of Catholic women generally who are not following the teaching of the Catholic Church in this area . . . a statistic based on a study that explicitly excluded those who have no use for contraception is obviously irrelevant to a question about the percentage of Catholic women who have a use for contraception!”

The fact that women who are celibate, postpartum, and those not trying to avoid pregnancy are excluded is enough. That such a misrepresentation is being used as leverage in serious political discourse is truly unfortunate, regardless of the content of the study, and says as much about contemporary American politics as the mandate itself.

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